George Griffith - The World Masters

GEORGE GRIFFITH

THE WORLD MASTERS

First published by F.V. White & Co., London, 1902

TABLE OF CONTENTS

* Prologue
* Chapter I
* Chapter II
* Chapter III
* Chapter IV
* Chapter V
* Chapter VI
* Chapter VII
* Chapter VIII
* Chapter IX
* Chapter X
* Chapter XI
* Chapter XII
* Chapter XIII
* Chapter XIV
* Chapter XV
* Chapter XVI
* Chapter XVII
* Chapter XVIII
* Chapter XIX
* Chapter XX
* Chapter XXI
* Chapter XXII
* Chapter XXIII
* Chapter XXIV
* Chapter XXV
* Chapter XXVI
* Chapter XXVII
* Chapter XXVIII
* Chapter XXIX
* Chapter XXX
* Chapter XXXI
* Epilogue


THE WORLD MASTERS

PROLOGUE—THE MOMENT OF TRIUMPH

High above the night—shrouded street, whose silence was only broken by the
occasional tramp of the military patrol or the gruff challenges of the sentries
on the fortifications, a man was walking, with jerky, uneven strides, up and
down a vast attic in an ancient house overlooking the old Fisher's Gate, close
by where the River 111 leaves the famous city of Strassburg.

The room, practically destitute of ordinary furniture, was fitted up as a
chemical and physical laboratory, and the man was Doctor Emil Fargeau, the most
distinguished scientific investigator that the lost province of Alsace had
produced—a tall, spare man of about sixty, with sloping, stooping shoulders and
forward-thrown head, thinly covered with straggling iron-grey hair. It was
plain that he was in the habit of shaving clean, but just now there was a short
white stubble both on his upper lip and on the lean wrinkled cheeks which
showed the nervous workings of the muscles so plainly. In fact, his whole
appearance was that of a man too completely absorbed by an over- mastering idea
to pay any attention to the small details of life.

And such was the exact truth—for these few midnight minutes which were being
ticked off by an ancient wooden clock in the corner were the most anxious of
his life. In fact, a few more of them would decide whether the Great
Experiment, for which he had sacrificed everything, even to his home and his
great professional position, was to be a success or a failure.

On the long, bare, pine table, beside which he was pacing up and down, stood a
strange fabric about three feet high. It was round, and about the size of a
four-gallon ale jar. It was covered completely by a closed glass cylinder, and
rested on four strong glass supports. From the floor on either side of the
table a number of twisted, silk-covered wires rose from two sets of storage
batteries. Within the four supports was a wooden dish, and on this lay a piece
of bright steel some four inches square and about an inch thick, just under a
circle of needles which hung down in a circle from the bottom of the machine.

A very faint humming sound filled the room, and made a somewhat uncanny
accompaniment to the leisurely tick of the clock and the irregular shuffling of
the doctor's slippered feet.

Every now and then he stopped, and put his ear near to the machine, and then
looked at the piece of steel with a gleam of longing anticipation in his keen,
deep-set, grey eyes. Then he began his walk again, and his lips went on
working, as though he were holding an inaudible conversation with himself At
last there came a faint whirr from the clock, a little window opened, and a
wooden bird bobbed out and said "Cuckoo" once. The doctor stopped instantly,
took out his watch and compared it with the clock.

"Now, let us see!" he said, quietly, in his somewhat guttural Alsatian French,
for in this supreme moment of his life he had gone back to the patois of his
boyhood, which he had spoken in the days before the Teuton's iron hand had
snatched his well-loved native land from France and begun to rule it according
to the pitiless doctrine of Blood and Iron.

He pulled the platter out from under the machine, picked up a little wooden
mallet from the table, and, with a trembling hand, struck the steel plate in
the centre. It splintered instantly to fragments, as though it had only been a
thin sheet of glass. The doctor dropped the mallet, lifted his hand to the
window that looked out over the river towards the citadel, and said:

"It is done! And so, Germany, stealer of our land and oppressor of my people,
will I break the great fabric of your power with one touch of this weak old
hand of mine!"

Then he threw open one of the old-fashioned dormer windows that looked out
over the northern part of the city towards France, and began to speak again in
a low, intense tone which rose and fell slightly as his deep breaths came and
went.

"But France, my beautiful mother France, thou shalt know soon that I have done
more than given thee the power to turn on thy conqueror and crush him. I can
make thee queen and mistress of the world, and I will do it. The other nations
shall live and prosper only at thy bidding, and they shall pay thee tribute for
the privilege of being something more than the savages from which they came.

"Those who will not pay thee tribute shall go back to the Stone Age, for I
will show thee how to make their metals useless. Only with thy permission shall
their steam-engines work for them, or their telegraphs record their words; for
I have found the Soul of the World, the Living Principle of Material Things,
and I will draw it out of the fabric of Nature as I have done out of that block
of steel. And I will give it into thy hands, and the nations shall live or die
according to thy pleasure.

"And you, Adelaide, daughter of our ancient line of kings, descendant of the
Grand Monarch, you shall join hands with my Victor after he has flung off" the
livery of his servitude, and together you shall raise up the throne of Saint
Louis in the place where these usurpers and Republican canaille have reigned
over ruined France. The Prince of Condé shall sit in the seat of his ancestors,
and after him Adelaide de Montpensier—and Victor, my son, shall stand beside
her, ruler of the world!

"A miracle, and yet 'tis true! Possible, for I have made it possible. It is
only for France to believe me and spend her millions—millions that will buy her
the Empire of the Earth, and it is done—done as easily as I worked that seeming
miracle just now. I have risked much— all—for I have hazarded even honour
itself; but my faith is justified, and I have won—and now, let me see how I
stand before the world for the present."

He went and sat down before the only piece of ordinary furniture that the
laboratory contained, an

4 old oak bureau, on which stood a little shaded reading-lamp. He unlocked a
drawer, and took out a little wash-leather bag. He undid it and emptied it into
his hand. There were ten twenty-mark pieces—just ten pounds and a few pence in
English money. In his pocket he had perhaps twenty- five marks more.

"It is not much," he whispered, as he looked at the gold in his hand; "not
much at the end of a life's work, as the world would call it. But the world
knows nothing of that!" he went on, half-turning his head towards the machine
on the table. "As the world takes wealth, this is all that is left of fortune,
lands, and savings. Everything is gone but this, and that—ay, and more also.
Yes, it was a hard fate that forced me to do that. Still, science showed me how
to alter the figures so that not even the filthy Jew Weinthal himself could
tell if he had the draft in his hand. That he will never have; for it has a
month to run, and before that France will have made me rich. It was not right,
but the scoundrel only gave me half what the last farm was worth, and I had to
have more to finish my work. Yet, is it not honourable even to sin in such a
cause! Well, well, it is over now. I have triumphed, and that atones for all;
and so to bed and good dreams, and to-morrow to Paris!"

CHAPTER I

It was the 27th of January, the Kaiser's birthday, and the reception- rooms of
the German Embassy, on the Nevski Prospekt, overlooking the snow- covered quays
and ice-bound waters of the Neva, were filled with as brilliant a throng as
could have been found between the Ourals and the English Channel.

It has been said that Petersburg in the winter season contains more beautiful
women than any other capital in Europe; and certainly the fair guests of His
Excellency the German Ambassador to the Court of the White Czar went far
towards proving the truth of the saying. The dresses were as ideal as they were
indescribable, and the jewels which blazed round the softly moulded throats and
on the fair white breasts, and gleamed on dainty coiffures of every hue, from
ebony black to the purest flaxen, would have been bad to match even among the
treasures of Oriental princes.

The men, too, were splendid in every variety of uniform, from the gold- laced
broadcloth of Diplomacy to the white and gold of the Imperial Guard. Not a man
was present whose left breast was not glittering with stars and medals, ^nd, in
most cases, crossed with the ribbon of some distinguished Order.

The windless, frosty air outside was still vocal with the jingling of the
sleigh-bells as the vehicles sped swiftly and noiselessly up to the open doors,

6 for it was only a little after ten, and all the guests had not yet arrived.
Precisely at half-past a sleigh drawn by three perfectly black Orloff horses
swept into the courtyard, and a few minutes later the major-domo passed through
the open folding-doors and said, in loud but well-trained tones:

"His Highness the Prince de Condé, Due de Montpensier! Mademoiselle la
Marquise de Montpensier!"

At the same moment two lacqueys held aside the heavy curtains which hung on
the inside of the doorway, and the latest arrivals entered.

The announcement of the once most noble names in Europe instantly hushed the
hurn of conversation, and all eyes were turned towards the doorway.

They saw a tall, straight, well-set-up man of about fifty, with dark moustache
and imperial, and iron-grey hair still thick and strong. A single glance at his
features showed that they bore the indelible stamp of the old Bourbon race. The
high, somewhat narrow, forehead was continued in a straight line to the end of
the long thin nose. The somewhat high cheek-bones, the delicate ears, the thin,
sensitive nostrils, and the strong, slightly protruding chin, might have
belonged to the Grande Monarque himself

He was in ordinary court dress, the broad red ribbon of the Order of St
Vladimir crossed his breast, the collar and jewel of the Golden Fleece hung
from his neck, and the stars of half-a-dozen other Orders glittered on the left
breast of his coat; but, though he bore the greatest name in France, there was
not a French order among them,

7 for Louis Xavier de Condd was a voluntary exile from the land over which his
ancestors had once ruled so splendidly and so ruinously.

For three generations his branch of the great family had refused to recognise
any ruler in France, from the First Consul to the President of the Third
Republic. In his eyes they were one and all usurpers and plebeian upstarts, who
ruled only by the suffrages of an ignorant and deluded mob. In short, his creed
and the rule of his daily life were hatred and contempt of the French
democracy. On this subject he was almost a fanatic, and in days soon to come
this fanaticism of his was destined to influence events, of which only three
people in all that crowded assembly were even dreaming.

The girl at his side—for she was not yet twenty-one—might well have been taken
for a twentieth-century replica of Marie Antoinette, and to say that, is to say
that among all the beautiful and stately women in that brilliant concourse,
none were quite so beautiful and stately as Adelaide de Condé Marquise de
Montpensier.

Of all the hundred eyes which were turned upon this peerless daughter of the
line of St Louis, the most eager were those of a splendidly-built young fellow
of about twenty-eight, dressed in the blue and white uniform of the Uhlan
regiment of the German army. Captain Victor Fargeau, military attach^ to the
German Embassy in Petersburg, was perhaps the handsomest, and, at the same
time, manliest-looking man in all that company of soldiers and diplomats. At
least, so certainly thought Adelaide de Condé, as she saw his dark blue eyes
light up with a swift gleam of admiration, and the bronze on his cheeks grow
deeper as the quick blood flushed beneath it.

It was a strange bond that united the daughter of the Bourbons with the
soldier and subject of the German Kaiser, and yet it must have been a close
one. For, after the first formal presentations were over, her eyes sent a quick
signal to his, which brought him instantly to her side, and when their hands
met the clasp was closer, and lasted just a moment longer than mere
acquaintance or even friendship would have warranted.

"Can you tell me, Captain, whether the gentleman who calls himself the French
Ambassador has honoured us with his presence to-night?" said the Prince, as he
shook hands with the young soldier.

"No, Prince, he has not," he replied. "I hear that, almost at the last moment,
he sent an attach^ with his regrets and excuses. Of course, as you know, there
is a little friction between the Governments just now, and naturally, too, he
would know that Your Highness and Mam'selle la Marquise would honour us with
your presence—so, on the whole, I suppose he thought it more convenient to
discover some important diplomatic matter which would deprive him of the
pleasure of joining us."

"Ah," said the Marquise, looking up at him with a a glance and a smile that
set his pulses jumping, "then perhaps Sophie Valdemar was right when she told
me this afternoon that His Excellency had really a good excuse for not
coming—an interview with Count Lansdorf, and afterwards with no less

9 a personage than the Little Father himself! And, you know, Sophie knows
everything."

"Ah yes," said the Prince; "I had forgotten that. You told me of it. I should
not wonder if the subject of their conversation were not unconnected with an
increase of the French fleet in Chinese waters. And then Morocco is—"

"Chut, papa!" said the Marquise, in a low tone, "we must not talk politics
here. In Petersburg ceilings have eyes and walls have ears."

"That is true," laughed Victor; "not even Embassies here are neutral ground."

At this moment a lacquey approached and bowed to Captain Fargeau.

"Pardon me a moment," he said to his companions; "I am wanted for something,
and I can see a good many envious eyes looking this way. Ah, there goes the
music! They will be dancing presently, and there will be many candidates for
Mam'selle's hand. But you will keep me a waltz or two, won't you? and may I
hope also for supper?"

"My dear Victor," she replied, with a bewildering smile, "have I not already
told you that you may hope for everything? Meanwhile, au revoir! When you have
done your business you will find us in the salon."

As he moved away, the curtains were again drawn aside, and the major-domo
announced:

"His Excellency Count Valdemar! The Countess Sophie Valdemar!"

The Count was a big, strongly-built man in diplomatic uniform. His face was of
the higher Russian type, and heavily bearded. His daughter, the Countess
Sophie, was a strange contrast to him, slight and fair, with perfectly cut
features, almost Grecian in their regularity, golden-bronze hair, dark,
straight eyebrows, and big, wide-set, pansy-blue eyes. The only Russian trait
that she possessed was her mouth—full-lipped and sensuous, almost sensular, in
fact; and yet it was small enough, and the lips were so daintily shaped that it
added to, rather than detracted from her beauty.

They were lips whose kisses had lured more than one bearer of a well- known
name to destruction. Some they had sent to the scaffold, and others were still
dreaming of their fatal sweetness in prison or in hopeless exile; for Sophie
Valdemar, daughter of Count Leo Valdemar, Chief of the Third Section of the
Ministry of the Interior, had been trained up from girlhood by her father in
every art of intrigue, until even he was fully justified in calling her the
most skilful diplomatic detective in Europe.

To her friends and acquaintances she was just a charming and brilliantly-
accomplished girl of nineteen, who had reigned as undisputed Queen of Beauty in
Moscow and Petersburg until Adelaide de Condd had come from Vienna with her
father, and, by some mysterious means, unknown even to her, had been received
into instant favour at Court, and in the most exclusive circles in the most
exclusive city in the world. In fact, the enigma which it was the present
object of her life to solve was how this could be possible—granted the tacit
alliance between the Russian Empire and the French Republic, and the Prince's
openly expressed contempt for all modern things French and Republican. There
were, indeed, only three people in Europe who could have solved that riddle,
and she was not one of them.

As she entered she saw Victor coming towards her. Instantly her eyes
brightened, and the faintest of flushes showed through the pallor of her silken
skin. He stopped for a moment to greet them, but his clasp on her hand was
nothing more than the formal pressure which friendship expects, and she looked
in vain for any gleam in his eyes answering that in her own.

When he had passed in towards the door she flung a swift glance round the
room, and as the soft pansy eyes rested on the exquisite shape and lovely face
of Adelaide de Condé they seemed to harden and blacken for just the fraction of
a second. The next moment she and her father were greeting the Prince and the
Marquise with a cordiality that was only tempered by the almost indefinable
reserve which the place and the situation made indispensable.

"My dear Marquise," she said, in that soft, pure French which, outside France,
is only heard in Russia, "if possible, you have excelled yourself to- night;
you are a perfect vision—"

"My dear Sophie," laughed the Marquise, "what is the matter? You seem as
formal as you wish to be flattering; but really, if it is a matter of
compliments, it is not you, but I who should be paying them."

"Quite a waste of time, my dear children," laughed the Count, gruffly.
"Imagine you two paying each other compliments when there are a couple of
hundred men here with thousands of them crowding up to their lips. Still,
Prince," he went on, "it is better so than rivalry, for rival beauty has always
worked more harm in the world than rival ambitions."

"There can be no question of rivalry, my dear Count," replied the Prince. "Why
should the Evening envy the Morning, or the Lily be jealous of the Rose?"

"Put like a Frenchman and a statesman. Prince: that was said as only one of
the old regime could say it," said Sophie, with a little backward movement of
her head. "How is it that the men of this generation never say things like
that—or, if they try to, bungle over it."

"Perhaps they are too busy to revive the lost art of politeness," laughed
Adelaide. "But come, papa; they are playing a lovely waltz, and I am dying for
a dance, and so is Sophie, I daresay."

"And, by their looks, many of these young men are dying of the same complaint;
so suppose we go into the salon," said the Prince, offering his arm to Sophie.

It was nearly half-an-hour before Victor found Adelaide disengaged in the
ball—room. The first waltz that she had saved for him was just beginning, and,
as he slipped his arm round her waist, he whispered under cover of the music:

"If you please, we will just take a couple of turns, and then you will give me
a few precious minutes of your company in the winter garden."

She glanced up swiftly at him with a look of keen inquiry, and whispered in
reply:

"Of course, my Victor, if you wish it; especially as it is getting a little
warm here—and no doubt you have something more interesting for me than dancing."

"I think you will find it so," he said, as they glided away into the shining,
smoothly-swirling throng which filled the great salon.

After two or three turns they stopped at the curtained entrance of the vast
conservatory, whose tropical trees and flowers and warm scented air formed a
delicious contrast to the cold, black, Russian winter's night. Almost at the
same moment Sophie Valdemar said to her partner, a smart young officer of the
Imperial Guard:

"I think that will do for the present, if you don't mind; I don't feel very
vigorous to-night, somehow: suppose you find me a seat in the garden, and then
go and tell one of the men to bring me an ice."

They stopped just as Victor and Adelaide passed through the curtains. They
followed a couple of yards behind them, and Sophie quickened her step a little,
her teeth came together with a little snap, and her eyes darkened again as she
saw Adelaide look up at her companion and heard her say softly:

"Well, what is your news—for I am sure you have some?"

"Yes, I have," he replied; "and the greatest of good news; you know from whom?"

"Ah," said Adelaide, with a little catch in her voice, "from him; and has he—?"

"Succeeded? Yes; and to the fullest of his expectations. He goes to Paris to-
morrow, and then—"

The rest of the sentence was lost to Sophie as they turned away into the garden.

Her companion found her a seat under a tree-fern, and left her leaning back in
her long-cushioned chair of Russian wicker, looking across the winter garden,
through the palms and ferns, at Victor and Adelaide, as they moved along,
obviously looking for a secluded corner. During those few moments her whole
nature had, for the time being, completely changed. The jealous, passionate
woman had vanished, and in her place remained the cold, clear- headed, highly-
trained intriguer, with incarnate and unemotional intellect, thinking swiftly
and logically, trying to find some meaning in the words that she had just
heard, words which, if she had only known their import, she would have found
pregnant with the fate of Europe.

"I wonder who has succeeded beyond his best expectations? Someone closely
connected with both of them, of course! And Paris—why should his success take
him to Paris? Victor Fargeau, Alsatian though he is, is one of the most
brilliant of the younger generation of German officers, a favourite of the
Emperor, a member of the Staff, and attache here in Petersburg. And she, my
dear friend and enemy, is a Bourbon, an aristocrat of the first water, the
daughter of an open enemy of our very good and convenient ally the French
Republic. Paris—he who has succeeded is going to Paris. Well, I would give a
good deal to know who he is and why he is going to Paris."

CHAPTER II

"And so, Monsieur le Ministre, I am to take that as your final word? I have
given you every proof that I can—saving the impossible—the bringing of my
apparatus from Strassburg to Paris, which, of course, you know is an
impossibility, since it would have to cross the frontier, which was once a
French high road. I have shown you the facts, the figures, the
drawings—everything. Can you not see that I am honest, that I love my country,
from which I have been torn away—I who come from a family that has lived in
Alsace since it was first French territory—I who am a Frenchman through five
generations—I who have sold my son to the Prussians—I who have masqueraded for
years in the Prussian University of Strassburg, once the Queen of the Rhine
Province—I who have discovered a secret which has lain buried since the days of
the great Faraday—I who have discovered, or I should say rediscovered, after
him the true theory, and, what is more, the actual working of the magnetic
tides which flow north and south through the two hemispheres to the pole—I who
can give you, Monsieur le Ministre, and through you France, the control of
those tides, so that you may make them ebb and flow as the tides of the sea
do—prosperity with the flow, adversity with the ebb, that is what it comes
to—ah, it is incredible!

"Once more, not as a scientist, not as an inventor, but only as a loyal son of
France, let me implore you. Monsieur le Ministre, not to regard what I have
told you as the dream of an enthusiast who has only dreamt and not done."

"If you have done as much as you say, Monsieur," replied the French Minister
of War, leaning back in his chair and twisting up the left point of his
moustache as he looked coldly and incredulously across his desk at Doctor Emil
Fargeau, late Professor of Physical Science at the University of Strassburg,
"how comes it that you have not been able to bring actual, tangible proofs to
me here in Paris? Why, for instance, could you not have performed the miracle
that you have just been telling me about in one of our laboratories in Paris?
If you had done that—well, we m'ight have investigated the miracle, and, after
investigation, might have some conviction—a conviction, if you will pardon me
saying so, which might have enabled us to overcome the very natural prejudice
that the Government of the Republic may be expected to have against a man of
ancient family, whose ancestors had been French subjects for, as you say, five
generations, but who has become himself a German subject, and has permitted his
son, his only son, to enter the Prussian service, and has endured the shame of
seeing him rise year after year, rank upon rank, in the favour of the man who
is destined to be to Germany what the Great Napoleon was to France.

"No, sir, I cannot believe you; I can understand what you have told me about
what you call your invention, but understanding without conviction is like
hunger without a good dinner. I am not satisfied. Bring your apparatus here;
let me see it work. Convince me that you can do what you say, and all that you
ask for is yours; but without conviction I can guarantee you nothing.

"With every consideration that is due to the position that you have occupied
in what may be called the enemy's country, the stolen provinces, I must take
leave to say that very few days pass without an interview of this kind. I
assure you, my dear sir, that saviours of our country and regainers of the Lost
Provinces are to be counted by hundreds, but we have not yet found one whose
scheme is capable of sustaining a practical test."

"But, Monsieur le Ministre, I can assure you with equal faith that this is not
a scheme, a theory, a something in the air. On the contrary, it is a theory
reduced to fact—solid fact; what I have said to you I can do before you. I can
convince you—"

"Exactly, my dear sir, exactly," said the Minister; "you will not think me
discourteous if I say that within the last six months I have had visits from
inventors of air-ships who could create aerial navies which would assume the
dominion of the air, annihilate armies and fleets, and make fortifications
useless because impotent. Others have come to me with plans which, if the
theory could only have been translated into practice, would have given us a
submarine navy which in six months would have sunk every cruiser and battleship
on the ocean. In fact, in one of the drawers of this very bureau I have a most
exactly detailed scheme for diverting the Gulf Stream through the much-lamented
Panama Canal into the Pacific, and so reducing the British Islands, the home of
our ancient enemies, to the conditions—I mean, of course, the climatic
conditions, of Labrador. That is to say, that nine months in the year London,
Southampton, Plymouth, Liverpool, Glasgow, to say nothing of the ports on the
east and the south, would be frozen up. The British Navy—that curse of the
world—could not operate; Britain's shipping trade would be paralysed, and after
that her industries. They are free-traders, and so they don't believe it; but
it would be if it could be done. But it could not be done, Monsieur; and that
is the objection which I have to this most splendidly promising scheme of
yours."

"But, Monsieur le Ministre, I assure that it is only a question of —well, I
will say a few thousand francs to convince you that I am not one of those
scientific adventurers who have perhaps imposed on the credulity of the
Government before. What I have described to you is the truth—the truth as I
have wrought it by my own labour, as I have seen it with my own eyes, as I have
finished it with my own hand."

"Tres bien. Monsieur! Then all you have to do is, as I said before, to bring
your apparatus here, perform the same experiment before a committee of experts,
and if you break the piece of steel as you would a piece of glass —voila, c'est
fini! We are convinced, and what you ask for will be granted."

"But, Monsieur le Ministre, nothing could be fairer than that; only you have
not remembered what I told you during our last interview. I have spent hundreds
of thousands of francs to bring this idea of mine to perfection. I have spent
every centime—"

"Pfennige I think you should call them, Professor," interrupted the Minister,
with a perceptible sneer. "I am afraid you are forgetting your new nationality;
and, since you are a German subject, living in German territory, as it now is,
it is permissible for me to ask why this wonderful invention of yours was not
offered first to Germany—that is to say, if it has not already been offered and
refused."

As the Minister of War spoke these few momentous words, accentuating them with
his pen on the blotting-pad in front of him, Doctor Fargeau arose from his seat
on the other side of the desk, and said, in a voice which would have been
stronger had it not been broken by an uncontrollable emotion:

"Monsieur le Ministre, you have spoken, and, officially, the matter is
finished. Through you I have offered France the Empire of the World. Through
you France has refused it. You ask me to bring my apparatus here to Paris, to
prove that it is a question of practice, not of theory. I cannot do it, and
why?—because, as I told you, I have spent every centime, or pfennige, if you
like, in making this thing possible.

"Everything is gone: the farms and vineyards that have been ours since the
days of St Louis are mortgaged. We are homeless. I have no home to go back to.
I have borrowed more than I can pay; I trusted everything to you, to the
intelligence and patriotism of France. I have not even enough money to take me
back to the home that I have ruined for the sake of France and her lost
provinces. It was impossible to think that you would disbelieve me. A thousand
francs, Monsieur le Ministre, would be enough—enough to save me from ruin, and
to make France the mistress of the world. Even out of your own pocket, it would
not be very much. Think, I implore you, of all that I have suffered and
sacrificed; of all the hours that I have spent in making this great ideal a
reality—"

"And which, if you will excuse me saying so, monsieur," replied the Minister,
rising rather sharply from his seat, "has yet to be proved to our satisfaction,
to be a concrete reality instead of a dream—the dream of an enthusiast who does
not even possess the credit of having remained a Frenchman. If, indeed, your
personal necessities are so pressing, and a fifty- franc note would be of any
use to you—well, seeing that you were once a Frenchman—"

As he said this the Minister took his pocket-book out, and, as he did so,
Doctor Fargeau sprang from his seat, and said, in quick, husky tones:

"Mais, non, Monsieur le Ministre! I came here not to ask for charity, but to
give France the dominion of the world. Those whom she has chosen as her
advisers have treated me either as a lunatic or a quack. Very well, let it be
so. Through you I have offered to France a priceless gift; you have refused it
for the sake of a paltry thousand francs or so. Very well, you will see the end
of this, though I shall not. I have devoted my life to this ideal. I have
dreamt the dream of France the Mistress of the World, as she was in the days of
la Grande Monarque. I have found the means of realising the ideal. You and
those who with you rule the destinies of France have refused to accept my
statements as true. On your heads be it, as the Moslems say. I have done. If
this dream of mine should ever be heard of again, if it should ever be
realised, France may some day learn how much she has lost through her official
incredulity."

Emil Fargeau left the Minister of War a broken man—broken in mind and heart as
well as in means. In youth it is easy, in early manhood it is possible, to
survive the sudden destruction of a life's ideal; but when the threescore years
have been counted, and the dream and the labours of half a lifetime are
suddenly brought to nought, it is another matter. It is ruin —utter and
hopeless; and so it was with Emil Fargeau.

He had risked everything on what he had honestly believed to be the certainty
of his marvellous discovery being taken up and developed by the French
Government. In fact, he was so certain of it, that, before leaving his
laboratory at Strassburg, he had taken the precaution to destroy the essential
parts of his accumulator, lest, during his absence, his sanctum might be
invaded and some one stumble by accident on his discovery. In a word, he had
staked everything and lost everything. To go back was impossible. Everything he
had was sold or mortgaged. He had been kept by official delays more than a
fortnight in Paris, and he had barely a hundred francs left, and even of this
more than half .would be necessary to pay his modest hotel bill for the week.

And then, worse than all, there was that fatal ndiscretion into which he had
permitted his enthusiasm to betray him—an indiscretion which placed him
absolutely at the mercy of a German Jew money-lender, who, under the rigid laws
of Germany, could send him to penal servitude for the rest of his life.

No, there was no help for it; there was only one way out of the terrible
impasse into which his enthusiasm, and that moral weakness which is so often
associated with great intellectual power, had led him, and that way he took. ""

He went back to his hotel, and spent about an hour in writing letters. One of
these was directed to Captain Victor Fargeau, German Embassy, Petersburg.
Another was directed to Reuss Weinthal, Judenstrasse, Strassburg. The third,
without date or signature, he placed in a little air-tight tin case, with the
complete specifications of his discovery.

He took off his coat and waistcoat, and fastened this to his body so that it
just came in the small of his back. Then, when he had dressed himself and put
on a light overcoat, he took a small handbag, for appearance's sake, walked to
the Nord Station, and took a second-class ticket to Southampton, via le Havre.

At midnight the steamer was in mid-channel, and Emil Fargeau was taking his
last look on sea and sky from the foredeck. For a moment he looked back
eastward over the dark waters towards the land of his ruined hopes, and
murmured brokenly:

"My beautiful France, I have offered you the Empire of the World, but the
dolts and idiots you have chosen to govern you have refused it. 'Tant pis pour
toi'! Now I will give the secret to the Fates—to reveal it or to keep it hidden
for ever, as they please. For me it is the end!"

As the last words left his lips he took a rapid glance round the deserted
deck, and slipped over the rail into the creaming water that was swirling past
the vessel's side. In another moment one of the whirling screws had caught him
and smashed him out of human shape, and what was left of him, with the little
tin box containing the secrets of a world-empire lashed to it, went floating
away in the broad wake that the steamer left behind it.

CHAPTER III

It was a lovely May morning on the English Channel, and the steam yacht Nadine
was travelling under easy steam at about eight knots an hour midway between
Guernsey and Southampton. Her owner, Ernest Shafto Hardress, Viscount Branston,
eldest son of the Earl of Orrel, was taking his early coffee on the bridge with
his college chum and guest, Frank Lamson, M.A. of Cambridge, and Doctor of
Science of London, the youngest man save one who had won the gold medal in the
examination for that distinguished degree. In fact, he was only thirty-two, and
the medal had already been in his possession nearly a year.

The morning was so exquisitely mild, that sea and sky looked rather as though
they were in the Mediterranean instead of the Channel. They were sitting in
their pyjamas, with their bare feet in grass slippers.

"Well, I suppose it's time to go below and shave and dress; Miss Chrysie and
Lady Olive will be up soon, and we'll have to make ourselves presentable,' said
Lamson, getting out of his deck-chair and throwing the end of his cigarette
overboard. "Hello, what's that? Here, Hardress, get up! There's a body there in
the water, horribly mangled."

"What!" exclaimed Hardress, springing from his seat and going to the end of
the bridge where Lamson was standing. "So it is! Poor chap, what can have made
such a mess of him as that?"

"Fallen overboard from a steamer, I should say, and got mopped by the screw,"
said Lamson, in his cold, bloodless voice. "It's a way screws have, you know,
especially twin screws."

"That's just like you, Lamson," said Hardress; "you talk about the poor chap
just as if he was an empty barrel. Still, he's been a man once, and it's only
fair that he should have Christian burial, anyhow."

As he said this he caught the handle of the engine telegraph and pulled it
over. "Stop." The yacht slowed down immediately, and he went on:

"Lamson, you might go and send the stewardess to tell the ladies not to get up
for half-an-hour or so. This isn't exactly the sort of job a woman wants to
see. Mr Jackson, will you kindly lower away the quarter- boat?"

The young Viscount was right—for the object that was hauled in from the sea
could hardly even be called a human corpse, so frightfully was it mangled out
of all mortal shape. When it was brought on board, a careful search was made
through the tattered remnants of clothing that were still attached to it for
some marks of identification; but nothing was found. A couple of pockets, one
in the waistcoat and one in the trousers which were left intact, contained
nothing. There was no mark on what was left of the linen. The upper half of the
head was gone, and so there was no use in photographing the remains. In short,
the ghastly spectacle was the only revelation of a secret of the sea which
might never be further revealed.

"I'm afraid it's no good," said Lamson; "there's nothing that anybody could
recognise the poor chap by. In fact, it looks to me like a case of deliberate
suicide by someone who didn't want to be identified. He's evidently fallen
overboard from a steamer, and people don't do that by accident with empty
pockets. For instance, that inside coat pocket was made to button, and would
probably have had a pocket-book and tickets in it. From what's left of them I
should say the clothes were French, and, judging by the locality, I should say
he might have been a French passenger from le Havre—perhaps to Southampton on
one of the South-Western boats. Hello, what's this? Perhaps this is a clue to
the mystery."

As he spoke he put his hand on the back of the body, where the sodden clothes
outlined an oblong shape, a few moments after it had been turned over.

"It feels like a bojc, or something of that sort. At any rate, we'd better see
what it is," he went on, taking a sheath- knife from one of the sailors and
ripping the cloth open. "Tied to the body. By Jove! Why, this is mystery on
mystery! Nothing in his pockets, no mark on his linen or clothes, and this
thing tied to his body! Well, I suppose we may as well see what there is in it;
and as you're the owner of the yacht and Deputy-Lieutenant of your county, I
suppose I'd better hand it over to you."

As he said this he cut the cords and handed the tin box to Viscount Branston,
who said as he took it: "Of course, we shall have to open it, and we'll do it
together after breakfast. Now, Mr Jackson, oblige me by having the body sewn up
in a bit of canvas. I don't want the ladies to see it in that horrible state.
And you may as well put on full speed ; we don't want it on board any longer
than we can help. Now, Lamson, come along and dress."

When they came out of their state-rooms they found the ladies already on deck,
taking an anteprandial stroll arm—in—arm. Lady Olive was a tall, perfectly-
proportioned young woman of about twenty-five, not exactly pretty, but with a
dark, strong, aristocratic face, which showed breeding in every line, and which
was lighted up and relieved most pleasantly by a pair of soft, and yet
brilliant, Irish eyes. When her features were in repose, some people would have
called her handsome; when she smiled, others would have called her, not pretty,
but charming—and they would have been about right.

Her companion. Miss Chrysie Vandel, daughter of Clifford K. Vandel, President
of the American Electrical Storage Trust of Buffalo, N.Y., was an absolute
contrast to her. She was about an inch shorter, exquisitely fair, and yet
possessed of a pair of deep blue eyes, which in some lights looked almost
black. Her brows were several shades darker than her hair, which was golden in
the sun and brown in the shade. She was not what a connoisseur would call
beautiful, for her features were just a trifle irregular, and her mouth was
just ever so little too large. Still, taken as a whole, her face had that
distracting and indescribable piquancy which seems to be the peculiar property
of the well-bred American girl at her best.

Both were dressed in grey serge, short-skirted yachting suits, and each had a
white duck yachting cap pinned to her hair.

"Well, Shafto," said Lady Olive, as the two men took their caps off, "and what
is all this mystery about? Chrysie and I have been speculating all sorts of
things."

"Why, yes. Lord Branston," chimed in Miss Chrysie. "I got out of my bath and
fixed myself double quick, half expecting to come on deck and find ourselves
held up by a French torpedo-boat, after all that talk we heard in Jersey about
the trouble between you and France and Russia over China."

"I am happy to say it is not quite so serious as that, Miss Vandel," said
Hardress, "and I hope we shall be able to get you safe to Southampton before
the war starts. The fact is, about an hour ago, while Lamson and I were having
our coffee on the bridge; he saw—well, the body of a man, terribly mangled,
floating in the water. So we stopped to pick it up. It was frightfully
mutilated, and, of course, it was nothing for eyes like yours to look upon, so
we've had it sewn up in canvas, and we're taking it to Southampton to give it a
decent burial."

"Now, I call that real good of you. Viscount. I guess you British have finer
feelings in that way than we have. I don't believe Poppa would have stopped his
yacht if he'd struck a whole burying lot afloat."

"Well,", laughed Hardress; "that is what a busy man like your father might be
expected to do. In fact, I suppose most Englishmen would have done so; but, as
it happens, in this case virtue was rewarded—for we have discovered what may be
a mystery."

"A mystery! Oh, do say. Viscount. That's just too lovely for words—a yacht,
dead body at sea, and a mystery—"

"Yes," said Lamson; "and in a tin box, attached firmly by cords to corpse
aforesaid."

"Don't, Mr Lamson; please don't," interrupted Lady Olive, somewhat severely.
Then she went on, with a little shiver, "I hope, Shafto, you will get us to
Southampton as quickly as you can. I don't want to be shipmates any longer than
I can help with—with—ah—remains. It isn't lucky at sea, you know."

"My dear Olive," replied her brother, "about the first thing I thought of was
that very idea; that is why we are now steaming full speed—twenty knots instead
of eight—so that you and Miss Vandel may be relieved of this disquieting
presence on board as soon as possible. And now, by way of passing the
inconvenient hours that our new passenger will be with us, suppose we go to
breakfast."

"A nice appetising sort of remark that, I must say, Viscount," said Miss
Chrysie; "still I suppose we may as well go. This morning air at sea does make
living people feel alive; I guess that's why I'm so hungry."

"And after breakfast, Shafto," said Lady Olive, "I presume that you will tell
us all about the mystery of the tin box."

"My dear Olive," replied her brother, "it may be anything or nothing; and, as
Lamson found it and gave it to me, instead of having it buried with the unknown
deceased, I've agreed with him that we shall go through the contents, whatever
they are, together; and, of course, if there's anything really interesting in
them, then we shall tell you all about it."

"Now, that's real kind," said Miss Chrysie. "I guess if we don't have quite an
interesting conversation over lunch it'll be the fault of our new passenger."

"My dear Chrysie," said Lady Olive, frigidly, "how can you! Really, you remind
me rather strongly of what Kipling says about the Americans."

"And what might that be. Lady Olive?" she replied, looking up, with the
flicker of a smile round her lips, and the twinkle of a challenge in her eyes.

"I don't think I remember the exact words just now, but I've got the ' Seven
Seas ' downstairs," replied Lady Olive; "but I think it's something about the
cynic devil in his blood that bids him mock his hurrying soul."

"Thanks!" replied Miss Chrysie, with a toss of her shapely head, and an
unmistakable sniff; "I think I've read that poem, too. Isn't there a verse in
it that runs something this way?—

"'Inopportune, shrill-accented,
The acrid Asiatic mirth
That leaves him careless 'mid his dead,
The scandal of the elder earth.'—"

She repeated the lines with such an exquisite exaggeration of the "shrill
accent" that the two men burst out laughing, and Lady Olive first flushed up to
her brows, and then also broke into a saving fit of laughter.

"That's a distinct score for Miss Vandel, Olive," said Hardress. "If you knew
the whole poem a bit better, I don't think you'd have made that last remark of
yours. But, of course, Miss Vandel will be generous and allow you to take the
only way there is out of the difficulty—the way to breakfast."

"Why, certainly," said Miss Chrysie, who was trying hard not to laugh at her
little triumph. "Kipling's good, but breakfast's better, in an air like this."

And so, as she would have put it, they "let it go at that," and went down into
the saloon to breakfast.

CHAPTER IV

During breakfast it had been agreed that Lamson, as the discoverer of the
mysterious tin box, should open it by himself, and, after examining its
contents, report on them to Hardress.

This was a speculative suggestion, made by Lady Olive, seconded by Miss
Chrysie, and so, perforce, agreed to. And thus it came about that all the
essentials of Doctor Emil Fargeau's great discovery fell into the hands of a
man who, by virtue of imagination, intellect, and scientific training, was the
one man in Europe, perhaps in the world, who could either use it or abuse it to
the best or worst advantage.

He took the box into his cabin, and opened it as carelessly as though it might
have contained a few old love letters, or the story of some obsolete Anarchist
conspiracy. But as soon as he had read the first page of the closely- written
manuscript, he got up from his chair and locked the cabin door. As he went back
to his seat, he caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. It looked almost
strange to him; so he stopped and looked at it again.

"Good Lord!" he muttered, "is that me?" And then he said aloud: "You infernal
scoundrel!"

He didn't go back to the little table on which the manuscript was lying. He
looked at the pages as a man might look at a cheque that he has just forged.
His hand, which had never trembled before, trembled as he took his cigar-case
out of his pocket; and as he lit the cigar he could hardly hold the match
steadily. He dropped full length on the sofa, looked sideways at the fatal
sheets of paper on the table, blew a long stream of smoke up towards the port-
hole, and began to talk with his own soul.

"The Empire of the World. I've read enough to see that it comes to that. Yes,
Faraday was right; and so was this poor wretch that we fished out of the water
this morning. A Frenchman, an Alsatian, who has made the biggest discovery that
ever was made, who has practically achieved a miracle, offers the result to his
country and gets refused, and then, for some reason or other, commits it and
his body to the deep!

"Curious, very curious, from anything like a scientific point of view. What an
infinite mercy it is for us, who have reason to believe that we possess a
little brains, that the majority of men are fools, and that the official person
is usually a bigger fool than the man in the street. Now, suppose our unknown
and deceased genius had put even that first page that I have read before our
good friend Clifford K. Vandel instead of, I suppose, the French Minister of
War. Jump—why, he'd have got into it with both feet, as they say in the States.
A man worth millions. Oh, millions be hanged! How many millions could buy that?
Of course, that's one way of looking at it—but Frank Lamson, as I said before,
you're in the way of becoming an infernal scoundrel. Perhaps I'd better
interrupt this little monologue, and read the rest of what our deceased genius
has to say."

He reached out and took the papers off the table, and for an hour there was
silence in the cabin. He read the sheets over and over again, making rapid
mental calculations all the time. Then, after a long look at the open port-hole
over the sofa, he folded the sheets up, and stuffed them into the hip-pocket of
his trousers. Then he got up, and looked at himself in the glass again.

"You scoundrel!" he whispered at the ghastly image of himself "You thief—you
utter sweep—who would accept the hospitality of an old college chum, and then,
when the possibility of illimitable millions, when the empire of the earth, the
means of enslaving the whole human race, the absolute control of every
civilised Power on earth, gets fished up by accident out of the waters of the
English Channel, you think about robbing him of it. You are not fit to live,
much less to—"

He flung himself down on the sofa again, with his hands clasped hard over his
brow, and there he remained, without moving a limb, until he was called out of
his waking dream by a rap on the cabin door and the sound of Hardress's voice
saying:

"Come now, Lamson, buck up! Are you going to be all the morning getting
through that tin box? The women folk are on the point of mutiny with curiosity
to know what there is in it. Hurry up!" And then, with a sudden drop in the
tone "You're not ill, old man, are you?"

"All right, Hardress," he replied, in a voice which, by a supreme effort of
will, he managed to keep steady, "I have had a bit of a shock—heart, I think. I
wish you'd tell Evans to bring me a brandy-and-soda, will you?"

As he said this, he unlocked the cabin door, and as his host saw him he
exclaimed:

"My dear fellow, you do look bad; sit down, and I'll get you the B.-and- S.
myself in a moment."

He disappeared, and Lamson sat down again on the sofa. Again he looked up at
the open port-hole. There were only a few moments left him now to decide what
might really be the fate of the human race. No man had ever been face to face
with such a tremendous responsibility before. No mortal had ever passed through
such a terrible temptation as he had done during the last hour. Should he fling
the priceless papers, the warrant for the mastery of the world, into the sea
and be done with it? Should he keep them in his pocket and make untold millions
out of the power that they placed in his hands? After all, he had discovered
this priceless treasure-trove. But for him it would have been buried with the
hideous relics of humanity lying in the forward—hold sewn up in a canvas sack.
Was it not his by right? Did any human law compel him to share it with anyone.

But, again, ought he or anyone else to be entrusted with such a tremendous
power for good or evil as this?—the power, literally, to reduce mankind to
slavery. He was a man of average morals himself; he had lived a clean, hard,
studious life, and no man could say that he had done him a mean action.
Hardress, too, was well up to the high standard of the British aristocracy—but
his partner had married an American girl—the daughter of a man who had made
millions out of railway developments after the Civil War. He was either in love
or falling in love with the daughter of another American millionaire who had
made his millions^ out of electrical storage. The first thing Hardress would do
would be to take the papers over to America and put them before him. Clifford
Vandel would grasp their gigantic possibilities instantly, a trust, commanding
millions of capital, would be formed, and the world would become an American
dependency.

"Here you are, old man," said Hardress, coming into the cabin with a long
glass in his hand, "I've made it pretty stiff,' because you look as if you
wanted it. Why, what's the matter?"

Lamson took the glass, and as he put it to his lips Hardress saw his hand
tremble and heard the glass rattle against his teeth. He drained it in two
gulps, put it down on the table beside the sofa, threw himself back on the
cushions at the end, looked once more at the open port-hole with the fate of a
world on his soul, and said in a shaking voice:

"Lock the door, Hardress, and sit down. I've something to say to you."

"Why, my dear chap, what's up? You look positively ghastly," said the
Viscount, as he closed the door and locked it.

"I don't suppose you'd look much better if you'd spent an hour in hell, as I
have."

"An hour in—Oh, come now, old fellow," Hardress interrupted, with a look which
Lamson instantly interpreted as a query as to his sanity. "Don't you think
you'd better turn in for a bit? You really do look ill; just as if something
had shaken you up very badly. Is it anything to do with that infernal tin box?"
he went on, pointing to it on the table.

"Yes," said Lamson, pulling himself together with a struggle, and sitting up
on the sofa. "I wish to heaven I hadn't got up just at that moment on the
bridge and we'd left our unknown deceased to the mercy of the waves. But, even
then, somebody else might have discovered it."

"Discovered what? The corpse?"

"Yes; and Look here, Hardress, I've been

horribly tempted—tempted, perhaps, as no other man ever was; but my father was
a gentleman, and I'll do the straight thing. How would you like to be master of
the world?"

"Master of the—Oh, look here, Lamson, this won't do at all, you know. You're
as pale as a ghost; your eyes are burning, and your hands are shaking. You must
have got a touch of fever, or something of that sort. Take a dose of quinine
and turn in. We'll be at Southampton in two or three hours, and then you can
see a doctor."

Lamson laughed. It was a laugh that wouldn't have done anybody much good to
hear, and Hardress shivered a little as he heard it.

"I see what you mean. You think I'm a bit off my head. To tell you the truth,
I almost wish I were, or that this infernal thing were only a dream—nightmare,
I should say."

"What thing?"

"This," replied Lamson, putting his hand into his hip-pocket and pulling out
some crumpled sheets of paper. "You thought I was mad when I asked you if you'd
like to be master of the world. When you've read that you'll see that you can
be. They're what I found in that tin box. There's no name or address or any
mark of identification on them, but they were written by a man, a Frenchman,
who has discovered a means, as one might say, of soaking up all the electricity
of the earth in one huge storage system, and then doling it out to the peoples
of the earth like gas or water or electric light."

"Great Scott, what a gorgeous idea!" exclaimed Hardress, jumping from his seat
and holding out his hand for the papers. "Why do you want to get ill over a
thing like that, man? Don't you see there are millions in it if it's true, and
of course you'll come in on the ground-floor? Great Caesar's ghost! It'll be
the very thing for old Vandel. The Morgan Steel Trust won't be in it with this."

"I thought you'd say that," said Lamson. "That's the American blood talking in
you. Now, I'll tell you candidly that I've only given you those papers from a
sense of honour and friendship. I admit that my first impulse was to throw them
out of the port-hole; and my second," he went on, after a little pause, "was to
keep them to myself, and tell you some lie about the box being empty."

"You might have done the first, old man, but you couldn't have done the
second," replied Hardress, putting the papers into his hand. "There, take them
back; I don't suppose I should understand them. Anyhow, you can make a better
use of them than I can; and if there's anything in it we'll share alike. In
fact, after all, the whole thing really belongs to you, for if you hadn't
discovered the body, it might have drifted around till it went down to feed the
fishes. Really, I don't see what there is to be so upset about in it."

"My dear fellow, hasn't it struck you yet," said Lamson, "that if this
discovery works out all right, as I'm certain it will, it will really mean, as
I said just now, the mastery of the world? For instance, to put the thing into
a nutshell: Here we are, on this seven- hundred-ton yacht of yours, steaming at
a speed of eighteen or twenty knots, engines working smoothly, and so on. Now,
if this man's scheme were put into practice, the Nadine would be, as I might
say, for want of a better word, electrolised. That is to say, every atom of
metal in her would lose its tone; the boilers would burst, the engines fly to
pieces, and even the hull would splinter up into a thousand fragments, just as
though she were made of glass, and she got hit with a hundred sledge-hammers at
the same minute."

"Is that really so, Lamson? Are you quite serious?" said Hardress, gravely,
for he was just beginning to grasp the enormous possibilities of the discovery.
"Do you really mean to say that that is actually feasible? Of course, I know
what a swell you are at these subjects, and I don't suppose for a moment that
you would say it if you didn't believe it; but are you quite sure that
your—well, that this scientific imagination that I've heard you talk about
hasn't run away with you?"

"My dear Hardress," replied Lamson, getting up from the couch, "there is no
imagination whatever about this. I can assure you it is just a matter of hard
facts and figures. Whoever that poor fellow was that we're going to bury at
Southampton, it's quite certain that the world has lost one of its most
brilliant physical scholars. The man who discovered this scheme and worked it
out in these papers was a second Newton or Faraday. In short, I can tell you in
all seriousness—I will pledge my reputation, such as it is—that, granted the
necessary capital, which would certainly run to a million or two, I could work
this scheme out myself. I could construct works that would mop up the
electricity out of the earth as a sponge takes water. I could change climates
as I pleased. I could hurl my thunders where I cho^e like a very Jove. I could
make myself arbiter of life and death on earth. In fact, I could be everything
that a mortal ought not to be."

"There; I can't say that I quite agree with you," said Hardress. "Personally,
I can't see why a man shouldn't be all that he can be, and there's no reason
why you and I and the governor and Chrysie's dad shouldn't syndicate this
business and run the earth. You say it's possible. That's good enough for me.
We'll find the millions and you'll find the brains, so we'll consider that
settled. Fancy picking a thing like that up out of the sea on a pleasure
cruise! Talk about luck! Well, come along; let's go and break it as gently as
we can to the girls."

CHAPTER V

The Nadine had been lying for a fortnight in Southampton Water, and all that
was mortal of the man who might have been master of the world was resting in a
nameless grave in the cemetery.

In the oak-panelled dining-room of Orrel Court, an old rambling mansion,
dating partly from Reformation times, and standing on the lower slopes of the
South Downs overlooking the distant Solent, there was a little dinner-party in
the process of eating, drinking, and chatting, which was a good deal more
pregnant with the fate of nations than many a Cabinet meeting.

At the head of the long, massive table sat a man of a little over fifty, tall
and rather squarely built, and still erect. A man, still handsome and capable
of attracting the attention and even the admiration of many fair ladies, who
would have been only too glad to occupy the place at the other end of the table
which was now occupied by the owner of the Nadine, for Harry Shafto Hardress,
eighth Earl of Orrel, came of one of the oldest and proudest stocks in the
country, and, thanks to the millions which his dead American wife had brought
him, the broad, fat acres that he owned in half-a-dozen counties were
absolutely unencumbered, and he possessed a personal fortune that yielded more
than twice his goodly rent-roll.

Miss Chrysie Vandel sat at his right hand, and, next to her, Doctor Lamson,
faced by Lady Olive and a tall, angular, square-headed, keen-featured man of
about the Earl's own age, with a heavy, welUtrained, iron-grey, moustache, and
an equally well-ordered, little tuft of hair on the square chin. This was
Clifford K. Vandel, President of the Empire State Electric Storage and
Transmission Trust of New York and Buffalo. He was commonly known throughout
the States and Europe as the Lightning King; and he controlled not only the
power distribution, but also the whole system of Etherography or wireless
telegraphy throughout the Continent of North America.

He had come over posthaste from New York in response to an urgent cable from
Lord Orrel. He was an uncle of the late Lady Orrel, and he and the Earl had
already done a good deal of business together on both sides of the Atlantic.
The cablegram had contained the words "urgent business," so he had taken the
first available steamer and arrived in Southampton that afternoon.

During dinner only ordinary topics had been touched upon, but when the cloth
was removed and the butler, with a ceremonious care that was almost
reverential, had placed the ancient decanters and jugs containing the port and
claret and Madeira, for which the cellars of Orrel Court had long been famous,
his lordship told him that they were not to be disturbed until he rang; and,
when the door had closed behind him, he said:

"Well, now, Vandel, we can talk. Miss Chrysie, a glass of port —allow me—and,
if you will, pass the decanter. Mr Lamson, this is the same seal as before.
Olive, you will make the coffee later on, won't you, in that patent concern of
yours? You certainly do it much better than they do downstairs; and I don't see
why for once we shouldn't have our smoke here, since our—what is it they
say?—revolting daughters both indulge."

"Revolted, if you don't mind, my lord," remarked Miss Chrysie across her wine-
glass. "Though I don't see much what Olive and I want to revolt for; and I
guess if two girls ever had more easily managed poppas they'd be curiosities.
What do you say poppa? You haven't tried to run me much, have you?"

The iron-faced man of millions, the commander-in-chief of armies of hand and
brain workers, the ruthless wrecker of industries which stood in the way of the
realisation of his gigantic schemes, looked smilingly at the living likeness of
his dead wife, and said, with that soft intonation and hardly perceptible
accent which evidenced his old Southern descent:

"Well, Chrysie, I don't know that either of you ever wanted very much running;
and as for smoking, well, your mothers and grandmothers did it down South two
generations ago, and I guess what was good enough for the South in those days
is good enough for anywhere else."

From which speech it may be gathered that Clifford Kingsley Vandel was one of
those Americans who, although he had come in with the Union, and made many
millions out of it, still cherished the traditions of the old Southern
aristocracy. In fact, in his heart of hearts, no man, saving only perhaps Louis
Xavier de Condé and his present host, had a greater contenipt for all
democratic institutions than he had; a contempt which is amply shared by nine
out of ten of the dollar despots of the great Republic.

He helped himself to a glass of the pale ruby-coloured port, and passed the
decanter to Hardress. Lady Olive was taking claret.

"And now," said Lord Orrel, raising his glass, "suppose we begin in the good
old-fashioned way. Here's success to the Storage Trust and all its future
developments."

"Which, from what I've heard of them, will be big and go far," said the
Lightning King.

"Even unto the running of the earth, and all that therein is. Is that good
American, Chrysie?"

"Not quite," she laughed, in reply. "I must say that your ladyship seems to
have considerable difficulty in picking up the American language. However, the
sentiment's all right, so we'll let it go at that. What do you say. Doctor?
Somehow you don't seem quite as enthusiastic about this as a man who knows
everything might be."

"If a man knew everything. Miss Vandel," replied Lamson, rather gravely, "he
would probably be enthusiastic about nothing. Still, I confess that, as I said
at first on board the yacht, I do look upon this scheme, splendid and all as it
is, and perfectly feasible from the scientific point of view, as something just
a little too splendid for human responsibility. After all, you know, to make
oneself the arbiter of human destiny, supreme lord of earth and air, dispenser
of life and death, health and sickness, is what is popularly described as a
somewhat large order."

"Well," chimed in Miss Chrysie, "I guess if it enables you to reform the
British climate, by way of a start, and give this unhappy country some weather
instead of just a lot of ragged-edged samples, you'll not begin badly."

"And if we can also do something with the furious, untamed, American
blizzard," laughed Hardress, nodding at her over his glass, "we shall also
confer a certain amount of blessing upon a not inconsiderable proportion of the
Anglo-Saxon race. What's your idea, Mr Vandel?"

"We could do about as well without them as London could do without fog, or the
British farmer do without a week of January shifted on into May," replied the
Lightning King. "I've often thought that a syndicate which could control the
British climate, and educate your farmers and railroads into something like
commonsense, would make quite big money. Maybe that's what we'll do later on."

"An excellent idea," laughed Lord Orrel. "I have suffered from both of them—as
well as from our free-trading amateur politicians who make it as expensive for
me to bring a ton of my own wheat from Yorkshire to London as to import a ton
of yours from Chicago. However, we shall be able to alter that later on. And
now, suppose Olive brews the coffee, and we have a cigar, and then, perhaps, Mr
Lamson will oblige us by shedding the light of his knowledge on the subject
before the meeting. I suppose, Mr Lamson, you have not found, on more mature
study of the question, that there are any serious objections to the scheme,
saving, of course, the one which your modesty has created?"

"No, Lord Orrel," he replied, with one of his grave smiles. ldquo;During the
last week or so I have worked out, I think, every possible development of the
scheme, and I am bound to say that the unknown genius whom we buried the other
day has left nothing to chance. There is not even a speculation. Everything is
fact, figure, and demonstration. Given the' capital, and the concessions from
the Canadian Government, there does not appear to me the remotest chance of
failure. The ultimate consequences of putting the scheme into practice are, of
course, quite another affair—but on that subject you already have my opinion."

"My dear Lamson," said Hardress, "that, if you will pardon me saying so, is
merely one of the characteristic failings of the scientific intellect. It has
too much imagination, and therefore looks too far ahead."

"I'm with you there. Viscount," said the Lightning King. "This is just a
question of dollars first, last, and all the time. Of course, we've got to see
the other side of it; but we're not concerned much with what there is beyond—or
back of beyond, for that matter. So, as practical men, we'll just respect the
doctor's scruples all they deserve, and take all the help he can give us."

"Exactly," said Lord Orrel; "you put the case with your usual terseness,
Vandel. And now, if you won't have any more wine, Olive will give us some
coffee, and we may light up and get to business."

"And, Lamson, you will consider yourself on deck for the present," added
Hardress. "I can see that Mr Vandel is just dying to know the details, in spite
of that cast-iron self-control of his."

"My dear Viscount," laughed the multi-millionaire, "I'm among friends, and I'm
not controlling any just now. Still, I'll admit that I'm just about as anxious
to know the details of this scheme as Chrysie was to try on her first ball-
dress, and that was no small circumstance, I tell you."

"I should think not," laughed Lady Olive. "There's only one thing more
important in life than that, and that's a wedding- dress. But if these people
are going to immerse themselves in facts and figures, Chrysie, suppose we have
our coffee up in my room. I want to have a good talk with you about the
presentation dresses."

"An even more weighty subject," laughed Hardress, "than the wedding-
dress—which may never be worn. I mean, of course—"

"I guess I wouldn't try and explain. Viscount," said Miss Chrysie, as she got
up and went towards the door. "Wasn't it your Lord Beaconsfield who said that
the most dreary duty of humanity was explanation? Reckon you'll find it pretty
dreary work explaining that remark away."

Hardress looked distinctly uncomfortable, for there was a flush on Miss
Chrysie's cheeks, and a glint in her eyes which, although they made her look
distractingly pretty, were not of great promise to him.

"I'm awfully sorry—" he began.

"My dear Shafto," laughed Lady Olive, as Lamson. opened the door for them,
"don't attempt it. A man who could make a remark like that could not possibly
improve the situation by an apology."

With that they disappeared, and Lamson shut the door. When he got back to his
seat he took a lot of papers out of the breast-pocket of his coat, put his
plate aside, laid them on the table, and said:

"Well, then, since I am in the chair, I may as well get to business. As Mr
Vandel has not yet been made fully acquainted with the details of the scheme,
perhaps it will be as well if I begin at the beginning."

"Quite so," said Lord Orrel, with a nod; "and your kindness will have the
additional effect of refreshing my own memory, which, I must admit, is not a
particularly good one for technicalities."

Then Doctor Lamson began, and for a couple of hours or so expounded with every
possible exactness of detail the discovery made by the man whose mangled
remains had been picked up by the Nadine in mid-Channel, and which might have
made France mistress of the world.

When he had finished, they went into the library, where they were joined by
Lady Olive and Miss Chrysie, and the conversation gradually drifted away into
topics more socially interesting, but of less imperial importance. But when
Clifford Kingsley Vandel went to bed that night he spent half-an-hour or more
walking up and down his big, thickly-carpeted bedroom, with his hands clasped
behind his back, his eyes fixed on the floor, and his lips shaping inarticulate
words which would have been worth millions to anyone who could have heard them.
Then he stopped his promenade, undressed, and got into bed, and just before he
dismissed the whole subject from his perfectly-trained intellect and addressed
himself to the necessary business of sleep, he said: "Well, that's just about
the biggest scheme that mortal man ever had a chance of bringing to a head; and
I guess we'll do it. Masters of the world, givers of life or death, lords of
the nations, makers of peace or war as we please! That's so, and now, Clifford
Vandel, I have the honour to wish you a very good night—a very good night
indeed—about the best night you've ever had."

And then the masterful brain ceased working, like an engine from which the
steam had been shut off, and he fell asleep as quickly and as peacefully as a
little child.

CHAPTER VI

Miss Chrysie's European visit had come to an end, and she and her father had
accepted Hardress's invitation to take a trip home in the Nadine. Doctor Lamson
was also a guest on board, and during the trip many of the details of the great
scheme were exhaustively discussed. Each of the three men was going on a
special mission. Clifford Vandel had definitely accepted the position of
president and general financial and business manager of the International
Magnetic Control Syndicate, as the newly—formed company had been provisionally
named. He was going to the States to do the necessary financial part of the
work, buy up rights and patents which might be necessary to the furtherance of
the scheme, and to perfect the organisation of the great combine of which he
was president—a combine whose influence was now to extend not only over the
United States, but over the whole world.

Doctor Lamson was going to make a personal study of the electrical machinery
to be found in the States, so that he might be in a position to design the
great storage works to the best advantage and with the greatest possible
economy of time and money.

Hardress, armed with introductions from the highest official sources in
England, was going northward, after leaving his guests at New York, to
Montreal, to obtain a lease of a few square miles of the desolate, ice-covered
wilderness of Boothia Felix, which, as a glance at the map will show you, is
the most northerly portion of the mainland of the American continent. Further,
in its scanty history, you may read that there Sir John Ross discovered the
magnetic pole of the earth, and named the wilderness after his friend Sir Felix
Booth, who had furnished most of the funds for his expedition.

His ostensible object in obtaining the lease was the foundation of an
observatory for the examination of magnetic and electrical phenomena; one of
which was the possible solution of the so far unsolved riddle of the Northern
Lights. He also stated to the Dominion authorities, by way of giving something
like a practical air to his mission, that a remoter possibility of the scheme
was the establishment of a magnetic centre for a world-wide system of wireless
telegraphy.

The few square miles of ice and snow and rock were absolutely worthless, and
so the Dominion Government had not the slightest hesitation in accepting his
offer of a thousand a year for ten years for the exclusive use and possession
of the peninsula, with right to import materials, construct works, and do
whatever might be necessary for the development of the scheme.

If he had not been the heir to an ancient peerage and the son of one of the
wealthiest men in England, he would probably have been looked upon as a
harmless crank who was wanting to lose his money in a vain attempt to harness
the electrical energy displayed in the Aurora borealis and make thunder-storms
to order out of it. As it was, he was treated indulgently as a man who had big
ideas, and who was conducting at his own expense a great scientific experiment
which he could very well afford to pay for.

Thus, after very brief negotiations, consisting of one or two interviews, two
or three dinners, and the handing over of a cheque, the Canadian Government in
all innocence parted with what was soon to prove the most precious piece of
land, not only on the American Continent, but in the whole world.

But this was not the only concession that Shafto Hardress took back to England
with him. For when he returned to New York and took a run up to Buffalo on the
Empire State Express, with the lease of Boothia Land in his pocket, to talk
matters over with President Vandel, he had a brief but momentously interesting
interview with Miss Chrysie, at the close of which she said, as her hand rested
in his:

"Well, Viscount, I'm not going to say ' Yes ' right away. You're a gentleman,
and I like you. You're going to be a peer of England some day, and, if this
scheme of yours works out all right, one of the masters of the world. As my
father's daughter I have no natural objection to being a peeress of England and
mistress of the world, but I am also a natural-born woman, and I want a little
more than that—I mean something that a man could not give me if he owned the
Solar System. I want to know for certain that you love me as a man should love
a woman, and that I can love you as a woman should love a man if she is going
to marry him. I like you; yes, I like you better than any other man I've ever
seen. I tell you quite honestly it hasn't been a case of love at first sight
with me, and I guess I haven't known you quite long enough to give you
something that I can never take back. Go to your work and do it, and while
you're doing it we shall get to know each other better, and meanwhile you may
consider that you have the option of another piece of half-discovered
territory."

Before releasing her hand he stooped and kissed it, saying, with a laugh that
bespoke a certain amount of satisfaction:

"That, you know, is—well, we will call it the seal on the contract. This is my
act and deed, you understand—as people say when they conclude a contract with
an option. A definition of kissing which I once read describes it as equivalent
to syllabus."

"Syllabus!" she said, releasing her hand and raising it to her brow, pushing a
fold of hair back by the motion and smiling up at him in a somewhat
disconcerted fashion. "And what might that mean in your dictionary of kisses?"

"It was defined as kissing the hand of the girl you want very badly instead of—"

Her red lips smiled an irresistible challenge at him, and the next instant his
arm was round her waist, and he said:

"After all, I don't think that contract was properly signed, sealed, and
delivered; at least, the seal was in the wrong place, and the delivery was not
quite complete."

"Now I call that real mean. Viscount," she said, a moment afterwards. "I only
gave you an option on the territory, and you're starting to occupy it right
away."

"Well, then," he said, taking her hand again, "suppose, instead of the
territory, we call it a reserve. How will that do?"

"Not quite," she said, drawing back a bit. "To some extent I've been taken by
assault, but I've not surrendered at discretion yet. That sounds a bit mixed, I
know—but it's pretty near the truth."

"And at that," he said, gravely smiling, "I am quite content to leave it." And
so, with the magical touch of her lips still thrilling through his blood, he
left her, more than ever determined to fulfil to the utmost the tremendous
destiny which chance had cast in his way.

To him there could have been no more delightfully satisfactory ending to his
mission. In blood he was himself half-American, and in him the old-world
aristocrat was strangely blended with the keen, far—seeing, quick —witted,
hard—headed, and perhaps, in one sense, hard-hearted man of business. It was to
this side of his nature that the physical charms, the keen wit, and sprightly
spirit of Miss Chrysie had first appealed; but later on the aristocrat in him
had recognised that she too was a patrician of the New World, whose ancestry
stretched back into the history of the old, and so gradually interest and
admiration had grown into a love which completely satisfied all his instincts.

The very way in which she had received his proposal had increased both his
love and his respect. If she had surrendered at discretion there might have
remained the possibihty of a suspicion that, after all, she had been tempted to
take hold of a magnificent opportunity, not only for placing herself in the
front rank of European society, but also of wielding through her husband a
power such as no woman had ever exercised before. But she had given him frankly
to understand that these things were as nothing in her eyes, great and splendid
as they were, without that certainty of mutual love which could alone induce
her to give herself, body and soul, into the hands of any man, however powerful
or nobly born; for Chrysie Vandel was a woman in the best sense of that much-
meaning word, and she knew that for her there was no choice, save between the
complete independence of thought and action which she had so far enjoyed, and
an equally complete surrender to the man to whom she could render, whole-
hearted and unreserved, the sweet service of love.

After dinner that night he had an equally satisfactory interview with the
president, who, when he had heard his story, just got up from his chair and
said:

"Viscount, we'll shake on that. My girl's free to choose where she likes, or
not to choose at all, and you are not going to have any help from me in the way
of persuasion; but if she does choose, why, I'd sooner she chose you than any
other man I know."

"I ask for nothing better, I can assure you," said Hardress. "Thank you a
thousand times."

And so they shook.

The next day by noon the Nadine was steaming out past Sandy Hook. Allowing for
difference in longitude, it was almost at the same moment that the night mail
pulled out of the Petersburg station. Two of the sleeping- compartments were
occupied by Prince Xavier de Condé and his daughter; and so, from the ends of
the earth, both travelling towards an obscure little watering-place hidden away
in the depths of the German forest land, were approaching each other the man
and the woman whose destinies had been, all unknown to themselves, so strangely
linked together by the last despairing act of the man whose country had refused
to permit him to make her the mistress of the world.

CHAPTER VII

The village of Elsenau, which has hardly yet risen to the dignity of a town,
lies somewhere midway between the Hartz Mountains and the Thuringia Wald,
which, as everyone knows, stretches away in undulations of wooded uplands and
valleys southward to the Black Forest. Its most recent possession is the fine
H6tel Wilhelmshof—an entirely admirable creation of the German instinct for
catering, facing south-west, and sheltered north and east by uplands crowned
with stately pines. Southward it has smooth, new-made lawns, dotted with clumps
of firs and parterres of flowers, shielded by curves of flowering bushes. The
lawns slope down to the edge of a long narrow lake, which, on the evening of
the day after the prince and the marquise left Petersburg, lay smooth and blue-
black beneath the cloudless azure of the summer heaven.

But the principal attraction of Elsenau, which, indeed, had given the
luxurious hotel its reason for existence, and which had raised the little
village of charcoal-burners and woodcutters to the dignity of a Kuranstalt, was
a spring, accidentally discovered by an enterprising engineer who was looking
among the mountains for a water—supply for the city of llmosheim, some three
miles away to the south. The waters had a curious taste and a most unpleasant
smell. Learned chemists and doctors analysed them, and reported that they
contained ingredients which formed a sovereign remedy for gout and
rheumatism—especially the hereditary form of the first. They were bottled and
sent far and wide, and soon after their qualities had been duly appreciated and
commented on by the medical press of Europe and America, the Hdtel Wilhelmshof
rose, as it were, with the wave of the contractor's magic wand, hard by the
little limestone grotto in which the spring had been discovered.

About eight o'clock on a lovely evening in July, Lord Orrel and Lady Olive,
under the broad verandah of the Wilhelmshof, sat drinking their after- dinner
coffee and watching the full moon sailing slowly up over the black ridges of
the pine-crowned hills which stretched away to the south- ward.

"I suppose the prince must have missed his train, or else the train was behind
time and missed the coach," said Lord Orrel, taking out his watch. "It is
rather curious that I should have met him regularly every year at Homburg or
Spa or Aix, and that somehow you have never met him; and now it seems from his
letter that we have both discovered this new little place of evil-smelling
waters together. I am glad that he is bringing his daughter with him."

"Ah, yes; his daughter—she is the second Marie Antoinette, isn't she?" said
Lady Olive, putting her cup down and taking up her cigarette. "The most
beautiful woman in Europe, the last daughter of the old House of Bourbon—I mean
the elder branch, of course. And the prince?"

"The first gentleman in Europe, in my opinion," replied the earl, flicking the
ash off his cigar. "A man who, granted the possibility of circumstances which,
of course, are not now possible, might mount the throne of Louis XIV., and
receive the homage of all his courtiers without their knowing the difference. A
great man, my dear Olive, born four generations out of his time. If he had
succeeded the Grand Monarque—there would have been no French Revolution, no
Napoleon—"

"And therefore, my dear papa," laughed Lady Olive, "no Peninsular War, no
Wellington, no Waterloo, no Nelson, no Nile and Trafalgar, and so none of that
expiring British supremacy which you were arguing about so eloquently the other
day in the House of Lords."

While she was speaking, the double doors giving on to the verandah were thrown
open, a lacquey, gorgeously uniformed in blue and silver, came out, with his
body inclined at an angle of thirty degrees, and his arms hanging straight
down, and said, in thick Swiss French:

"Your Excellency and Madame la Marquise will find Milord and Miladi on the
verandah here."

As Lady Olive looked round she heard a rustle of frilled skirts on the planks
of the verandah, and saw a tall, stately gentleman and the most beautiful woman
she had ever seen coming towards her.

The gentleman's eyes brightened and his brows lifted as he raised his hat. The
woman's face might have been a mask, and her eyes looked out upon nothingness.

"Ah, my dear prince," said the earl, rising and going towards him with
outstretched hands. "Delighted to renew our acquaintance in a new and yet a
very charming place. I was hoping that you would get here for dinner; but, of
course, once off the main line, you can never trust a German train to get
anywhere in time. And this is Mam'selle la Marquise, I presume. This is
fortunate. You see I have my daughter Olive taking care of me, so perhaps they
may help to entertain each other in this out-of-the-way place."

"Yes," replied the prince, as they shook hands, "this is my daughter of whom I
have spoken to you so often; and this is yours, the Lady Olive. Mam'selle, I
have the honour to salute you. Adelaide, this is the daughter of Lord Orrel—an
old friend, and one of the ancienne noblesse."

Olive had risen while he was speaking; the mask melted away from the
marquise's lovely face, her lips softened into a smile, and a swift gleam of
scrutiny took the place of vacancy in her eyes. Lady Olive's met hers with a
frank though involuntary look of challenge. She certainly was what the gossip
of half-a-dozen countries called her—the most beautiful woman in Europe. She
possessed an exquisite grace of form and face and manner which made her
indescribable. When one woman honestly admires another it is always with a half-
conceived sense either of envy or hostility. Lady Olive was herself one of the
best types of an English patrician, and the blood in her veins had flowed
through ten generations of the proudest lineage in Britain; but in Adelaide de
Conde, the daughter of the most ancient aristocracies of France and Austria,
she instinctively recognised her equal, perhaps her superior.

She put out her hand in a frank, English way, and said, in the most perfectly
accented French:

"My father has told me so much about yours, and they are such good friends,
that I hope it isn't possible that we can be anything else."

"Quite impossible!" smiled the marquise, taking the hand of the new-made
friend who in days to come was to be an enemy. "Since our fathers are such old
and good friends, why should we not be new friends and good ones too?" And
then, turning round to her father, she said: "Voilà, papa, since we find
ourselves in such good company, and we have missed the dinner, and cannot eat
till they get something ready, why do you not have your vermouth and a
cigarette? In fact, as we are so entirely ' chez nous ' here in this delightful
retreat, you may order one for me too, I think."

The prince lifted his eyelids, and the lacquey approached and took his order,
and then the party proceeded to make friends.

A little after tea the same evening, when Lady Olive and the marquise had
retired to Lady Olive's sitting-room for a chat on things feminine and
European, Lord Orrel and the prince were strolling up and down the moonlit
lawn, smoking their cigars and exchanging the experiences that they had had
since their last meeting at Homburg the year before.

Their friendship had begun by a chance acquaintance some six years before at
Aix-les-Bains. Both of them aristocrats to their fingertips, it was not long
before they struck a note of common sympathy. The once splendid name which the
prince bore appealed instantly to the Englishman, who could trace his descent
back to the days of the first Plantagenet, and it was not long before they
found a closer bond than that of ancient ancestry.

One night, when the beach at Trouville was lit up by just such a moon as was
now floating high over the pines on the hills round Elsenau, he had told the
prince the story of his life—the story of an elder scion of an ancient line
devoted rather to literature and the byways of science than to the political
and social duties of his position, and, moreover, a man who had never found a
woman whom his heart could call to his side to share it with him. He had
devoted his after-college days to study and travel. His younger brother, a
splendid specimen of English chivalry, had found his mate in the daughter of
his father's oldest friend. He was a soldier, and when the Franco-German war
broke out, nothing, not even the longing, half-reproachful looks of his
betrothed, could keep him from volunteering in the French service. He had
fought through the war with brilliant distinction, a private at Saarbruck and a
captain during the Siege of Paris. Then, captured, badly wounded, by the
Germans after a brilliant sortie, he was cured and released, only to be
murdered by the communards on the eve of his return to England. A year or two
after, the Earl abjured his vows of celibacy under the fascinations of a
brilliant American beauty, and so had accepted the responsibility of
perpetuating his race.

So these two men had met on common ground, and nothing was more natural than
that they should have become such friends as they were. To a very great extent
they stood apart from the traditions of their times. They were aristocrats in
an age of almost universal democracy. Both of them firmly believed that
democracy spelt degeneration, national and individual. Both of them were, in
fact, incarnations of an age that was past, and which might or might not be
renewed.

This was, indeed, the subject of their conversation as they strolled up and
down the smoothly-shaven lawn under the sheltering pines, chatting easily and
comparing in well-selected phrases the things of their own youth with those of
the present swiftly moving and even a trifle blatant generations of to- day.

"I quite agree with you, my dear Lord Orrel," said the prince, as they turned
at the end of their walk. "Democracy is tending now, just as it did in the days
of Greece and Carthage and Rome, and to-day in my own unhappy France, to
degeneration, and the worst of it is that there is no visible possibility of
salvation. Our rulers have armed the mob with a weapon more potent than the
thunders of Jove. The loafer of the cafe and the pot-house has a vote, and,
therefore, the same voice in choosing the rulers of nations as the student and
the man of science, or the traveller who is familiar with many lands and many
races. I often think that it is a pity that some means cannot be found for
placing—well, I will call it a despotic power—in the hands of a few men—men,
for instance, if I may say so without flattery or vanity, like ourselves—men of
wide experience and broad sympathies, and yet possessing what you and I know to
be the essentials of despotism—that something that can only be inherited, not
acquired."

"My dear prince, I agree with you entirely," replied Lord Orrel. "Our present
civilisation is suffering from a sort of dry-rot. Sentiment has degenerated
into sentimentalism, courage into a reckless gambling for honours,
statesmanship into politics, oratory into verbosity. In short, the nineteenth
century has degenerated into the twentieth. Everything seems going wrong. The
world is ruled by the big man who shots his quotations on the Stock Exchange
and the little one who serves behind his counter. It is all buying and selling.
Honour and faith, and the old social creed which we used to call noblesse
oblige, are getting quite out of date."

"Not that yet, my friend, surely," the prince interrupted, quickly grippihg
his companion's arm; "not that, at least, for us. I confess that we and those
like us are, as one might say, derelicts on the ocean of society—we, who one
day were stately admirals, to use the old phrase. And yet, as you said just
now, if only some power could be placed in the hands of a few like ourselves, a
power which would override the blind, irresponsible, shifting will of the
mutable mob which changes its vote and its opinions with the seasons, the world
might be brought again into order, and the proletariat might be saved rom its
own suicide.

"And," he went on, turning at the other end of their promenade, "perhaps you
will not believe me, but only a few weeks ago there was such a power in the
hands of a Frenchman—of an Alsatian, perhaps I should say, but a man who had
preserved his loyalty to France—a scientist of European reputation—a man who
had discovered that this earth had a spirit, a living soul, and who could gain
control of it—so complete a control, that he could draw it out and leave the
earth dead—a man who—But there, I am wearying you; I am sure you must think
that I am telling you some fairy tale."

"By no means, my dear prince," said Lord Orrel, doing his best to keep his
voice steady, and not quite succeeding. "In the first place, I am quite sure
that you would not speak so seriously on a subject that was not serious; and,
in the second place, I can assure you that I am most deeply interested."

"A thousand pardons, my lord," said the prince. "Of course you would not think
that of me. We have both of us lived too long to indulge in romance, and yet,
if I could tell you the whole story, you would say that you have never heard
such a romance as this." "And, if it is not trespassing too far upon your
confidence, my dear prince, I should be only too happy to hear you tell the
whole story," said his lordship, with an unmistakable note of curiosity in his
tone.

"I can tell you part of the story," replied the prince; "but not here. It is
so strange, and it might have meant so much, not only to France, but to the
world, that I can only tell it to you where no other ears than ours can hear
it, and even then only under your solemn pledge of secrecy."

"As for the first condition, my dear prince," replied Lord Orrel, "I will ask
you to take a glass of wine with me in my sitting- room. As for the second, you
have my word."

"And, therefore, both conditions are amply satisfied. Let us go, and I will
tell you the strangest story you have ever heard."

CHAPTER VIII

By the time the prince had ceased speaking there was not the slightest doubt
in Lord Orrel's mind that, in some most mysterious manner, he was connected
with the discovery which Hardress had made when he took the mutilated body out
of the waters of the Channel. Perhaps even the unknown dead might have been
someone near and dear to him. It seemed to him utterly impossible either to
doubt the prince's word or to believe that two such discoveries could have been
made by two men at the same time, or even that there could exist at the same
time on earth two men whose genius, once put into practice, could make them
rival masters of the world.

And supposing that he knew part of the story which the prince was going to
tell him—the sequel, and, from a practical point of view, the all- important
portion—ought he to tell him what he knew too? He was under no actual pledge of
secrecy to his associates in the great Trust, but still he felt that he was
under an honourable obligation to keep the story of the discovery to himself On
the other hand, granted that the prince knew the first half, would it be
right—would it be honourable, according to his own exact code of honour, to
keep the sequel from him? Perhaps the prince even had a definite personal
interest in the scheme; and, in that case, to keep silence would be to rob him
of his prior rights. What was he to do?

He had been a Minister of the Crown for a short term of office, and by the
time they reached his sitting-room, and he had locked the door, after the wine
had been placed on the table, diplomacy had come to his aid, and he had made up
his mind. When he had filled the glasses he took out his cigar-case, selected
the best it contained, and said:

"Prince, I'm going to ask you to allow me to take a very great liberty."

"My dear Lord Orrel, there is nothing that you could do that I should consider
a liberty. Thank you, I will; I know that your cigars are always most
excellent, and now we will make ourselves comfortable, and you shall take your
liberty."

He took the proffered cigar as he spoke, snipped the end, and lit it. Lord
Orrel did the same, and when they had saluted each other over their wine, in
the old-fashioned, courtly style, he began:

"My dear prince, the liberty that I am going to ask your permission to take is
a very great one, because it is a liberty of anticipation; and few men, even
the most chivalrous, care to be anticipated, especially when they have an
interesting story to tell. In other words, I, too, have a very strange story to
tell you. In fact, the strangest that ever came within my experience. And there
are reasons, which I will explain to you afterwards, why I am asking the favour
of your permission to tell it before yours."

The prince looked puzzled, and his dark brows approached each other for just
the fraction of a second. He took a sip at his wine, leant back in his chair,
and blew a long whiff of smoke up towards the gaudily-painted ceiling. Then he
said, with a barely perceptible shrug of his shoulders:

"My dear Lord Orrel, you are not asking me any favour. On the contrary, you
are merely requesting that you shall entertain me before I try to do the same
by you. Moreover, as it is quite impossible that there can be any connection
between our stories, there can be no question of anticipation; so, pray,
proceed. I am all attention."

"As I said," began Lord Orrel, settling himself in his chair, and taking a
long pull at his cigar, "the story is a very strange one, and it is also one
which could not well be told from the housetops, because it involves—well, what
may be something almost as wonderful as what you hinted at in the garden just
now."

"Ah," interrupted the prince, with a visible start and a sudden lifting of the
eyebrows, "then, in truth, it must be strange indeed; and so I am more than
ever anxious to hear it; and if, as I divine, you wish me to treat it in
confidence, you, of course, have my word, as a gentleman of France, that no
detail of it shall ever pass my lips."

His host felt not a little relieved at being released from the necessity of
binding him to secrecy, as, for the sake of his colleagues, he would have felt
obliged to do; so he said:

"That, my dear prince, it would be quite impossible to imagine; and now, as it
is getting a little late, I will get to my story."

He began with the finding of the mutilated body by the Nadine, and the
discovery of the tin box containing the momentous papers, and had just given a
sketch of their contents and the use that was about to be made of the dead
man's discovery when the prince, whose face had been growing greyer and greyer
during the recital, at length lost his hold upon the stern control under which
he had just placed himself. He sprang to his feet, flung his arms apart, and
cried, in a high- pitched, half-choked voice:

"Mon Dieu! mon Dieu! It is the same!—what miracle has happened? My lord, you
have been telling me the end of the story of which I was going to tell you the
beginning. And so France, poor France, through the stupidity of the ministerial
puppets that the mobfhas placed in the seats of their ancient rulers, has
refused the sceptre of the world; and I—I, the heir of her ancient royal house,
have lost not only the throne of my ancestors, but the power to make her the
mistress of the nations. Truly, the mills of God grind slowly, but they grind
exceeding small. Her kings misruled her, and she took other rulers, who have
cheated and swindled her, and humbled her before those who once did her
bidding; and now, when the hand of Fate holds out the means of regaining all
that she has lost, and more, infinitely more, she puts it aside with the
sneering laugh of contemptuous ignorance. Truly it is a judgment that judges
even unto the third and fourth generation. Ah, yes; and on me, too!—I, who am
innocent! Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, it is cruel!"

As the last words came from his trembling lips his hands came together on his
forehead, and he dropped back into his chair.

For a moment of speechless astonishment Lord Oriel stared across the room at
him. Then, dropping his cigar on the tray, he got up and went and laid his hand
on the prince's shoulder.

"My dear prince, my dear friend," he said, in a voice moved by emotion, "I am
most deeply distressed that my story should have affected you so painfully.
Believe me, I had no intention, no thought even—"

The prince dropped his hands from his head, and stood and faced him, his face
white and set and his eyes burning; but with a perfectly steady voice, he said:

"My lord, I thank you. So much emotion, though perhaps it was natural, ought
not to have been shown. I should not have permitted it to myself, save in
solitude. It was impossible that I should know that your lordship's story was
the same as mine, and so, naturally, the shock was greater. And now, may I ask
your lordship one question?"

"I will answer it, prince, before you ask it," interrupted Lord Orrel. "But
first, let me beg of you to drink your wine; really, you do not look well."

The prince took the glass from him and drained it in silence, his hand shaking
ever so little as he held it to his lips, and the other went on:

"Knowing what I did, I felt certain that two such miracles could not have
happened at the same time; moreover, some inspiration told me that the
discovery you spoke of in the garden was the same that my son made under such
terrible circumstances in the Channel. Now, sit down, pray, do, and let us talk
this matter over as men of the world."

"Men of the world!" echoed the prince, sadly, as he sat down again; "nay, of
two worlds. I of the old, you and your son and your great business syndicate of
the new; I of the past, you of the present and the future; I who would have
revived the glories of an ancient race, the despotism, if you will, of a bygone
dynasty, you who would found a new one—despotism a thousand times harder, a
dynasty of money, not of blood, the most soulless and brutal of all dynasties.
Ah, well, it is fate, and who shall question that? No; if you will pardon me,
my dear Orrel, we will not talk further upon this subject, to-night, at any
rate. I confess that what you have told me has affected me deeply. If you will
permit me, I will go to bed. The Russians, you know, have a saying, ' Take thy
thoughts to bed with thee, for the morning is wiser than the evening.' To-
morrow, perhaps, I shall be able to converse with you on this momentous matter
more calmly than I could do to-night."

"By all means, my dear prince," was the reply; "and, no doubt, such a course
would be better for me too, for I admit that this extraordinary coincidence has
upset me not a little as well. , And so, good- night, and sound sleep."

"Ah, yes," replied the prince, as they shook hands at the door; "sound sleep.
I hope so. Good-night, my lord, and pleasant dreams of the world- empire."

He turned away to his bedroom, which was the next but two to his daughter's.
The intervening rooms were occupied by his valet and her maid. The valet's door
was ajar, and there was a light in the room. He stopped, and said:

"I shall not want anything to-night, Felix, so you may go to bed. If I require
you in the night I will knock on the wall, as usual."

"Bien, monseigneur," replied the valet, opening the door and bowing. "J'ai
I'honneur de vous sous haiter le bon soir, monseigneur."

"Bon soir," replied the prince, as he passed on to his room. "Le chocolat a
huit heures."

But Xavier de Condé, Prince of Bourbon, would never drink another cup of
chocolate. As soon as his door closed behind him, a sternly-repressed flood of
passion broke out, and he spent half the remainder of the night walking, in his
stockinged feet, up and down his big bedchamber, with clenched teeth and tight-
gripped hands, his brain seething with a thousand thoughts of passion, and his
white, twitching lips shaping unspoken words of rage, bitterness, and despair.
It was a cruel irony that Fate had wrought on him and his ancient house. The
possible sceptre of the world had been offered to his hereditary enemies, the
Republicans of France, and, if Fargeau had held to his compact, the compact for
which he had given his daughter to his son, he would have been master of France
; and Fargeau would have kept it, for he was a loyal Frenchman; and his son
would have married a future Queen of France! And now not only had France
refused the sceptre and snatched the crown from him, but the sceptre had passed
by some bitter caprice of Fate into the hands of France's hereditary enemies.
What could he say or do? Nothing. It was maddening—worse than maddening. He had
pledged his honour, and could tell no one—but even if he could, what then? The
secret was out—worse—it was in the hands of men who could make the ideal a
reality. They could not even give him back the power if they would, for the
knowledge was theirs already, and they could act on it while he could not.

The more he thought the faster the fever that was burning in his blood
increased. His lips and tongue grew parched. His steps grew irregular and
faltering. The veins in his head were beating on his brain like sledge-hammers.
The lights began to waver before his eyes. He felt instinctively that
madness—that long-inherited curse of his race—was coming. What if he should
really go mad and babble not only of this great secret, but also of all the
plots and intrigues of which he had been the centre! How many devoted friends
and adherents would be consigned to prison and exile—perhaps even to the
scaffold! The very thought chilled him back into sanity for the time being. He
rapped sharply at the wall, and presently Felix appeared, half- dressed, and
doing his best to stifle a yawn.

"Felix," said the prince, who was now sitting in his arm- chair with his head
between his hands, "bid Marie arouse mam'selle immediately, and request her to
dress and come to me. I am unwell—another of my attacks, I fear—and she only
knows what to do for me. Quick—I need her at once."

Felix vanished, and within ten minutes the marquise was in her father's room;
but by this time the blood was beating on his brain again, and the fierce light
of insanity was beginning to dawn in his eyes.

With the valet's help she partly undressed him and got him to bed. Then she
locked the door and braced herself for what she instinctively knew must be a
terrible ordeal.

She saw at a glance that some terrible shock had thrown his brain off its
balance. She had plotted with him and for him, and she knew why it was her duty
to lock the door. But what was this? Whence had come this blow which had struck
him down so swiftly? She soon learnt, as the disjointed words and fragmentary
sentences were shaped in the struggle between sanity and delirium for the
command of his brain. Hour after hour it went on, a piteous jumble of the
memories of a long, busy life; but in the end, out of the mental tangle she was
able to unravel one clear thread of thought. Emil Fargeau had given his secret
to the sea, and the sea had given it into the hands of the English, the ancient
enemies of her country and her race; and it was the son of this Lord Orrel, the
brother of the haughty English beauty sleeping here, under the same roof, who
had rediscovered it, and they were even worse than English, they were half-
American; and England and America would between them share that empire of the
world, that mastery of the human race, which should have been her father's and
hers. She had even permitted her troth to be sold to a simple officer in the
German army, a spy in the enemy's camp, in order to purchase this new
sovereignty for her house.

The prince was rapidly sinking; she could see that, and yet she was helpless
to save him, for she had promised that no one, not even a doctor, should be
admitted into the room. She gave him a dose of an opiate which he always
carried with him, and about dawn he was sleeping, but every now and then
talking in his sleep more coherently. At sunrise the effect of the drug wore
off, and delirium resumed its sway for a few moments. His eyes opened, and with
a sudden jerk he sat up in bed, his eyes glaring at the opposite wall, and his
fingers clutching and tearing at the bedclothes. His lips worked convulsively
for a while, then, with a hoarse, croaking scream he died.

"France! O ma belle France, maîtresse du monde—et moi ton roi, ton—ah!"

His voice dropped suddenly in a low, soft sigh, his eyelids fell, and his arms
shrank to his sides, and he rolled back into his daughter's arms. The fresh
rush of blood to his head had broken a vessel on the brain.

Adelaide knew instinctively that the dead weight in her arms was not that of a
living man. She laid him back on the pillows, called up Felix and sent him for
the resident physician. When he had made his examination, he said, in his
guttural French:

"Mam'selle la Marquise, there is no hope. The prince is dead. If I had been
called earlier I might have done something. I will make an examination
afterwards and certify the cause of death, according to law. Accept my most
respectful condolences."

That evening Shafto Hardress arrived from Paris at the Hotel Wilhelmshof.

CHAPTER IX

In the midst of the desolation which had so swiftly and unexpectedly fallen
upon her, the help and solace even of those whom she now knew to be her
enemies—enemies perhaps to the death—were very welcome to Adelaide de
Montpensier. Every sort of trouble that could be taken off her hands they
relieved her of Hardress travelled to Vienna, which the prince had made his
headquarters, to interview his man of business and to escort back the prince's
sister, Madame de Condé, Princess of Bourbon, who was now, save Adelaide, the
only representative of the older branch of the ancient line. The younger had
bowed the knee to the Republican Baal in France, and they were not even
notified of the prince's death.

Lord Orrel undertook the arrangement of the funeral and all the legal
formalities connected with it, and Lady Olive was so sweet and tender in her
help and sympathy that, in the midst of her grief, Adelaide began to love her
in spite of herself.

The funeral was without any display that might have signalised the rank of the
dead man, and Louis Xavier de Condd, Prince of Bourbon, was laid to rest in an
ordinary brick grave on the hillside under the pines of Elsenau. Both Adelaide
and her aunt would have applied to the French authorities to permit his
interment in the resting-place of his ancestors, but the old prince had given
special instructions that while the Republican banner waved over France not
even his dead body should rest in her soil, and so his wishes were, perforce,
respected.

The night after the funeral the marquise was sitting at her writing-table
before the window of her private sitting-room. The window looked put over a
vast expanse of undulating forest land, broken here and there by broad grassy
valleys through which ran little tributaries of the Weser, shining like tiny
threads of silver under the full moon riding high in the heavens.

She had drawn the blind up, and for nearly half-an-hour she had been gazing
dreamily out over the sombre, almost ghostly landscape. The deep gloom of the
far-spreading pine forest harmonised exactly with her own mood, and yet the
twinkle of the streams amidst the glades, and the glitter of the stars on the
far-off horizon, were to her as symbols of a light shining over and beyond the
present darkness of her soul.

The night had fallen swiftly and darkly upon her. First the vanishing into
impenetrable mystery of the man upon whom rested her hopes and dreams of one
day queening it over France as her ancestress Marie Antoinette had done, and
not only over France as a kingdom, but as mistress of the world. And now the
veil of mystery had been rudely torn aside, and showed her these English and
Americans, the hated hereditary enemies of her house and country, in possession
of the power which should have been hers. Then, last and worst of all, her
father and her friend, the only real friend she had ever had, the only human
being she had ever really loved—for she barely remembered the mother who had
died when she was scarcely out of her cradle—had been stricken down by the same
blow that had fallen upon her, and lay yonder on the hill-side under the pines,
all his high hopes and splendid ambitions brought to nothing by the swift agony
of a single night.

There was an open book on the table before her—a square volume, daintily bound
in padded Russia-leather, and closed with a silver spring lock. A gold-mounted
stylographic pen lay beside it, and she held between her fingers a little
cunningly contrived silver key which she had just detached from her watch-chain.

"Shall I write it," she murmured, in a soft, low tone, "or shall I keep it
hidden where no human eyes can read it? But who can ever read this?" she went
on after a little pause, letting her hand fall on the square volume. "After
all, are not all my secrets here? and is not this the only friend and confidant
that I have now left to me? Yes, I am a woman, when all is said; and I must
open my heart to someone, if only to myself"

She turned the little shaded lamp by her side so that the light fell on the
volume, and she put the key in the lock and opened it. About half the pages
were filled with writing—not in words, but in a kind of shorthand which could
only be read by her father, herself, and three of the most trusted adherents of
their lost cause. Her eyes ran rapidly over the last few pages. They contained
the last chapters in the book of her life which was now closed. Before she
reached the end a mist of tears was gathering in her long, dark lashes. She
wiped it away with a little lace-edged handkerchief, and took up her pen. She
scored two heavy lines across the bottom of the last written page, turned over
a fresh one, and began to write.

"My father is dead, and with him the dreams which for years we have dreamt
together. Was there ever a more cruel irony of Fate than this? Was Fate itself
ever more unkind to man or woman? Only a few weeks ago, and I had sold myself,
with his consent, so far did our devotion go to serve the sacred cause of our
house, to this big, handsome Alsatian—a servant of the German Emperor, the arch-
enemy of our country, the owner of the two provinces which my ancestor Louis
tore from Germany. I did it because in high politics it is necessary sometimes
to sacrifice onself, partly too because no other man had appealed to me as he
did. f knew that he was running tremendous risks; I believed—yes, and I still
believe, that he was risking everything—rank, honour, liberty, even life
itself, by wearing the uniform of his country's enemy so that he might learn
his enemy's secrets.

"He loves me—yes, if ever man loved woman, he loves me—me, Adelaide de Condé,
Marquise de Montpensier; and I—ah, mon Dieu, is it possible that the daughter
of Marie Antoinette has sunk so low? —I allowed him to believe that I loved him
too. He believes it now. I suppose he would still believe it, even if he knew
what I know now—that his father is dead, that the secret of the world-empire
which he could have given us, that power for which I pro-raised myself to him,
so that I might share it with him, has gone, that it is worse than lost, since
the Fates have given it into the hands of the enemies of our house.

"And so it is gone—worse than gone—and so, my friend Victor, I am afraid you
will have to find out in the course of circumstances that a woman's smiles do
not always mean a reflection of the light in her lover's eyes, and that her
kisses do not always mean love. It is a pity, because, after all, I believe you
are a true Frenchman, even if you wear a German uniform; and if that dream had
become a reality, and you and I had shared the throne of France, perhaps I
should have loved you as well and as truly as most queens have loved their
consorts.

"But, alas, my poor Victor, the sceptre has passed away—for the time being, at
least—from the House of Bourbon. It is given into the hands of our, enemies,
and so you, by force of fate, must stand aside. I shall not tell you this yet,
because afterwards, perhaps, you may be useful. I wonder what you would think
of me—even you, a man who in the old days would only have been a sort of slave,
living or dying socially as the great Louis smiled or frowned upon you—I wonder
what you would think if you could look over my shoulder and read this writing
and see a woman's soul laid naked on this page. Perhaps you might think me
utterly mean and contemptible—you would if you didn't understand; but if you
did, if you could see all and understand all—well, then, you might hate me, but
I think you would be man enough to respect me.

"At least you are diplomatist enough to know, after all, in the great game of
politics, a game that is played for the mastery of kingdoms, and peoples, to
say nothing of the empire of the world, women have to count themselves as
pawns. Even the cleverest, the most brilliant, the most beautiful of us—that is
all we are. Sometimes our beauty or the charm of our subtle wit may win the
outer senses of the rulers of the world; they may admire us physically or
mentally, or both, but even at the best, it 4s only the man that we enslave.
The man goes to sleep for a night, he dreams perhaps of our beauty and the
delight of our society, but in the morning it is the statesman that wakes, and
he looks back on the little weakness of the night before, and thinks of us as
an ordinary man might think of the one extra liqueur which he ought not to have
taken after a good dinner.

"And now these English—these people into whose hands Fate has given my
heritage! Ah, cruel Fate; why did you not make them hateful, vulgar,
common—something that I could hate and tread under foot— something that I could
think as far beneath me as the bourgeois canaille of Republican France? But you
have made them aristocratic! Lord Orrel's lineage goes back past the days,/ of
St Louis. His ancestors fought side by side with mine in the first Crusade.
True, they have mixed their blood with that American froth, the skimming of the
pot-bouille of the nations, but still, after all, the old blood tells.

"Lady Olive—how I wish that she were either vulgar or ugly, so that I could
hate her!—is a daughter of the Plantagenets fit to mate with a Prince of
Bourbon, if there were one worthy of her.

Lord Orrel might have been one of those who went with the Eighth Henry to meet
Francis on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, patrician in every turn of voice and
manner and movement. And Shafto Hardress, who will be Earl of Orrel some day,
and master of the world: yes, he is a patrician too; but with him there is
something a little different—the American blood perhaps —keen, quick, alert,
one moment indolently smoking his cigar and sipping his coffee, the next on his
feet, ready to assume the destinies of nations. A man, too, strong and kindly—a
man who would risk his life to save a drowning dog, and yet strike down an
enemy in his path, so that he might rise a foot or so on the ladder of fame or
power. But he is more than that, he wants far more than the empty fame of
applause. The fame he wants is that which comes from acknowledged power. You
can see the dreamer in his eyes and on his forehead, and you can see the doer
on that beautiful, pitiless mouth of his and the square, strong jaw which is
under it.

"What a man to love and to be loved by! What would he think, I wonder, if he
could read what I am writing here! And yet, are not all things possible? Is it
not the unexpected that comes to pass? Why not? Behold, I am left desolate, the
garden that I called my heart is a wilderness—a wilderness ploughed up by the
ploughshare of sorrow and bitterness, and so it lies fallow. Would it be
possible for him to sow the seed for which it is waiting?—and then the harvest
would be the empire of the world shared between us! Well, after all, I am not
only Adelaide de Condé, daughter of a lost dynasty. I am a woman, with all the
passions and ambitions of our race burning hot within me. If I cannot sit on
the throne of the Bourbons, why should I not be empress-consort on the throne
of a world-wide empire? —why not? It would be a magniiicent destiny!"

When she had written this she laid her pen down, put her elbows on the table,
and, with her chin between her hands, looked up in silence for some minutes at
the moon sailing through rank after rank of fleecy clouds. Then she took up her
pen again, and wrote:

"I wonder if there is another woman?"

She looked at the last words for a moment or two, then put down her pen,
closed the book and locked it, and, as she put it away into a drawer of her
writing-table, she murmured:

"Ah, well, if there is—if there is—" She caught a sight of herself in the long
glass of one of the wardrobes, and she saw a tall, exquisitely-shaped figure of
a beautiful woman clad in the plainest of mourning. She looked at herself with
eyes of unsparing criticism, and found no fault, and she turned away from the
glass, saying:

"Ah, well, if there is—we shall see—and, if there really is, I wonder what
she's like."

CHAPTER X

Within a week after the funeral Adelaide and Madame de Condd returned to the
late prince's hotel on the Ringstrasse in Vienna. They had taken most cordial
leave of Lord Orrel and his son and daughter, and, in spite of all their
prejudices of race and nation, Adelaide de Condé had brought something more
away with her than the memory of a great sorrow tempered by the kindness of
those whom a strange freak of fortune had made friends as well as enemies.

Even the two or three days that she had spent in his society had sufficed to
show her that Shafto Hardress possessed in an infinitely greater degree those
qualities which go to make the rulers of humanity than her big handsome
Alsatian, whose utmost ambition was the command of an army corps. He had the
hard, keen, unemotional common-sense which enabled him to see even the
tremendous possibilities of Emil Fargeau's discovery in a purely practical and
even commercial light, but at the same time he possessed sufficient imagination
to enable him to see how far.reaching the moral and social effects of the
working-out of the scheme would be on the peoples of the world.

She had herself said nothing of what had passed during that terrible night.
For all they knew, the prince had taken the secret with him to the grave.

Once Lord Orrel had very delicately led the conversation up as near to the
edge of this supremely important subject as his instincts would let him go, but
he had learnt nothing, and an hour or so later he said to his son:

"My dear Shafto, it is perfectly certain that my dear old friend the prince
died without giving her any inkling of the great secret which he took to the
grave with him."

"Either that, dad," he replied, "or she is the most perfect diplomatist in
Europe. I think I have heard you say that the first essential of diplomacy is
the ability to assume a perfect counterfeit of innocence and ignorance—in other
words, to convey the impression that you know nothing when you know everything."

"Well, if that is so in this case," replied his father, "the mask which
mam'selle wears is as impenetrable as it is beautiful. Really, Shafto, I think
that rumour did not exaggerate when it called her the most beautiful woman in
Europe."

"Yes," said Hardress, slowly; "she certainly is very lovely, and, from the
little I've seen of her, she seems as gifted as she is beautiful."

"Then, my dear boy, if you really think that," said Lord Orrel, "how would it
be if you were to repair this involuntary injustice which the Fates have
wrought upon her? The most beautiful woman in Europe, and perhaps the most
nobly born, and you one of the masters of the world! Why not? There is the
realisation of a dream even greater than the prince's; and if I have any skill
in reading a woman's face or woman's eyes, it is a dream not very difficult for
you to realise."

Hardress laughed, and shook his head, and said:

"No, dad; I'm afraid that's not difficult. It's impossible."

The earl looked up sharply, and said:

"Oh, then, of course, there is someone else in the case; and that can hardly
be anyone but—"

"You're quite right, dad; it's Chrysie Vandel. I meant to tell you before, but
such a lot of things have happened since I got here, and I didn't really think
it was of very much consequence for the present—because, after all, she's only
accepted me conditionally—but, lovely and all as the marquise is, I think I
would rather rule over the Orrel estates with Chrysie than over the world with
her."

"Then that, of course, settles it," said the earl, with a certain note of
displeasure in his voice. "Miss Vandel is a most charming and fascinating girl,
but you will perhaps pardon me, Shafto, if I say that she no more compares with
the daughter of the royal line of France than—"

"You needn't go on, dad," said Hardress, interrupting him with a laugh;
"comparisons are always more or less unpleasant; and then, you see, you're not
in love with either of them, and I'm pretty badly in love with one."

"Well, well," said his father, "of course, if that's the case, there's an end
of it, and there's nothing more to be said. Still, for more reasons than one, I
must say that I wish you had met the marquise first. The Plantagenets and the
Bourbons would have made a splendid stock,"

On the same day that this conversation took place in the gardens of the H6tel
Wilhelmshof in Elsenau, a very different one was taking place in the prince's
hotel at Vienna between Adelaide de Condé and Victor Fargeau, who, on receipt
of the news of the prince's death, had obtained a few days' leave, and
travelled posthaste from Petersburg to Vienna.

It was after dinner, and Madame de Condé had retired to her own room with a
slight attack of nerves. The marquise and Victor Fargeau were sitting on either
side of the open fireplace, with a little table, holding coffee and liqueurs,
between them. Adelaide had accepted a cigarette from his case, and he had lit
one too. For several minutes after her aunt had left the room she puffed
daintily at her cigarette, and looked across at him with intricately- mingled
feelings. At length Victor broke the silence by saying, with a note of
impatience in his tone:

"And now, Mam'selle la Marquise, or, if you like it better, my most beautiful
Adelaide, I have possessed my soul in patience for nearly two hours. When are
you going to tell me this wonderful news of yours?"

"Wonderful, my dear Victor? Alas, it is not only that; it is most sorrowful as
well." Then, bracing herself with a visible effort, she threw her half-smoked
cigarette into the fireplace, and, gripping the arms of the big chair in which
she was sitting, she went on, staring straight into his eyes: "It is nothing
less than the story of how your father met his end, and what became of his
great secret."

"Nom de Dieu!" he cried, springing to his feet;?' you know that, and from whom?"

"From these English and Americans—or Anglo-Americans, as I suppose I ought to
call them," she replied; the people to whom the Fates gave the secret with your
father's dead and mutilated body; the people who buried him—the man who might
have been the saviour of France—in a nameless English grave."

She kept her voice as steady as she could while she was saying this; she even
tried to speak coldly and pitilessly, for she had made up her mind that the
reasons of state for her betrothal to this man no longer existed. She had an
even higher stake to play for now, and, in spite of all her pride of blood and
racial prejudice, this would not be a sacrifice; on the contrary, it would be
rather a victory—and so she hardened her voice, as she had done her heart.

"Dead! mutilated!" he exclaimed again. "Yes; I knew he was dead, for he told
me in his letter from Paris that he would not, and could not, survive the
failure of all his hopes. There were reasons why he should not, but they are of
no consequence now. He staked everything, and lost everything, and that is
enough. It is not for me to be his judge, now that he has gone to the presence
of the highest Judge of all."

"That was said like a good son and a true man, Victor," replied the marquise,
with a swift glance of something like admiration at his flushed and handsome
face. "But there is something more serious than even the death of one whom you
have loved and I have most deeply respected. I heard enough from my own father,
during the night he died, to convince me that these people have not only got
the secret, but that they are already devoting millions to convert your
father's theory into a terrible reality.

"This Viscount Branston, Lord Orrel's son, has already been across to America,
and has leased the land about the Magnetic Pole from the Canadian Government. A
syndicate has been formed, and even at this very moment the preliminaries of
the work are being pushed forward as rapidly as possible. Within a few months
they will have begun the storage station itself, and then nothing can save the
world from the irresistible power which will be theirs."

While she was speaking, Victor was striding up and down the dining-room, his
hands clasped behind his back, and his frowning eyes bent on the thick carpet.
Suddenly he stopped and faced her, and said, in sharp, almost passionate
accents:

"Perhaps it is not too late after all. My father left me those papers in
duplicate. I am weary—sick to death of playing this double game. In a few
months war between France and Germany will be inevitable. Russia will side with
us, and the prize of the victors will be—for France, the restoration of the
Lost Provinces, and a good fat slice of China, and for Russia the whole of
Northern China and Korea. Germany hasn't a friend on earth. The English hate
her because she is beating them in trade rivalry; Austria has no more forgotten
Sadowa than we have forgotten Sedan. Italy is crippled for lack of money, and
so is Spain. The rest don't matter; and England and America will be only too
glad to stand aside and see Europe tear itself to pieces. So France and Russia
will win, and we shall crush our conqueror into the dust."

"But how can that be?" she interrupted, "if your father's calculations were
correct—as these people have evidently found them to be—for if they had not
done so they would not have risked their millions on them. From what you and he
have told me of his discovery, once these works are set in operation round the
Magnetic Pole, fighting will be impossible, save with the permission of those
who own them. Metals, as he proved in his last experiment, will become brittle
as glass, cannons and rifles will burst at the first shot, even swords and
bayonets will be no more use than icicles; steam-engines will cease to work,
and the world will go back to the age of wood and stone.

"Picture to yourself, my dear Victor, the armed millions of Europe facing each
other, unable to fire a shot, or even to make a bayonet charge. Fancy the
fleets of Russia and France and Germany laid up like so many worn-out hulks.
No, no, my friend; there can be no talk of serious war while these people
possess the power of preventing it at their will."

"But war there must and shall be!" he exclaimed. "I have not been a traitor to
my country even in appearance, I have not worn this German uniform—this livery
of slavery—for nothing. I have not wormed my way into the confidence of my
superiors, I have not risked something worse than death to discover the details
of Germany's next campaign against France, to have all my work brought to
nothing at the eleventh hour by these English- Americans. No, there may be time
even yet; I have risked much, and I will risk more; and you, Adelaide, will you
help me? Will you keep the compact which your father made with mine?"

She had been growing paler all the time he had been speaking, knowing
instinctively what was coming. She rose slowly from her chair, and said, almost
falteringly:

"What do you mean, Victor? How can I help you, when these people already have
the secret in their hands, and have been spending their millions for weeks?
What can we do against them?"

"We can do this," he replied, stopping again in his walk; "my father pledged
his honour as well as everything else he had in the world to insure the success
of this scheme. I, his son, can do no less; I will pledge mine in the same
cause. I am on leave, and I can wear plain clothes. To-morrow I will start for
Paris and see if I cannot bring that pig-headed Minister of War to something
like reason. I think I have a suggestion which he will find worth working out,
and certainly he will be interested in other things that I shall put before
him. Germany I have done with. I have worn the livery of shame too long.
Henceforth I am what I was born—a Frenchman. I will resign my commission to-
morrow, even if France lets me starve for it. I can easily do that, for the son
of a disgraced man cannot remain in the German army, and my poor father
disgraced himself to make France the mistress of the world. A miserable Jew in
Strassburg holds the honour of our family in his hand. I have no money to
redeem it, and so it must go."

She had almost said, "Victor, I am rich; let me redeem it," when she
remembered that she was no longer more loyal to him than he was to Germany. All
the while that he had been talking she had been thinking, almost against her
will, of Shafto Hardress, and comparing him only too favourably with this man,
who, however honourable his motives might seem to himself, was still a traitor
and a spy. Instead of this, she said, rising and holding out her hand, "Well,
Victor, so far as I can help you I will. We are going to Paris ourselves in a
few days, and, by the way, that reminds me I had a letter from Sophie Valdemar
only this morning, telling me that she and the count are going there too."

"Ah yes," replied Victor; "a mixture of diplomacy and pleasure, I've no doubt.
I wonder what the fair Sophie would give to know what you and I know, Adelaide?"

"A good deal, no doubt," smiled Adelaide, as they shook hands. "Of one thing
I'm quite certain; if Russia had the knowledge that you are going to give to
France, Russia would find some means of making those storage works an
impossibility."

"And that is exactly what I propose to persuade France to do, if possible; but
we can talk that over better when we meet in Paris. And now, my Adelaide, good-
night."

He clasped her hand and drew her towards him; for the fraction of a second she
drew back, and then she yielded and submitted to his kiss; but when the door
had closed behind him, she drew the palm of her hand across her lips with a
gesture almost of disgust, and said:

"No, my Victor; that must be the last. You cannot afford a Princess of Bourbon
now. I sold myself for statecraft which is craft no longer; and, besides, there
is another now. Ah, well, I wonder what will happen in Paris? And Sophie
Valdemar, too, and the count! Altogether, I think we shall make quite an
interesting little party when we meet in la Ville Lumiere."

CHAPTER XI

Ten days had passed since Victor Fargeau's conversation with Adelaide de Condé
in Vienna. He had adhered to the decision that he had come to so suddenly under
the spell of her wonderful eyes.

He had no family ties now. His mother had died several years before. His two
sisters had married Frenchmen, and migrated with their husbands into Normandy.
The estate in Alsace, which should have been his own patrimony, was lost, and
the German Jew, Weinthal, held not only that but the honour of his family, the
good name of his dead father, in his hands. So he had decided to cut himself
adrift from his native land until it had become once more a part of France.

He had written to Petersburg and resigned his position on the Diplomatic
Staff, and he had also written to headquarters resigning his commission, and
telling enough of his father's story to show that, since it was impossible for
him now, as a man with a tarnished name, to hold his head up amongst his
brother officers, there was nothing left for him but retirement into civil life.

A reply had come back, to the effect that the circumstances of his very
painful case were under consideration, and that he need not report himself for
duty until the general of the division to which he was attached had given his
decision.

He knew that this was equivalent to an acceptance of his resignation. Even
though he had asked for it, his dismissal galled him. He knew perfectly well
that he had only entered the German army for the purposes of revenge, that in
honest language he could only be described as a traitor and a spy—a man who had
deliberately abused his position and the confidence of his superiors to get
possession of plans of fortresses, details of manoeuvres, lines of
communication, available rolling-stock, and points of entry which had been
selected for possible invasion.

He had, in fact, done more than even Dreyfus was ever accused of, and now,
since everything else was lost, he was determined to take the last step. He
would throw off his enforced allegiance to Germany; he would take the wreck of
his fortunes with him to France, and he would offer her his services and his
information. He knew well enough that they would not be rejected, as his
father's priceless discovery had been. What he possessed would be bought
eagerly by any of the chancelleries of Europe. The French Ministry of War would
not refuse his services as it had refused his father's.

Even now some means might be found to checkmate these English-Americans.
Already a scheme, daring and yet practicable, was shaping itself in his mind,
and if that succeeded he might still achieve the one desire of his life and
call Adelaide de Condé his own. , For the present, although she had said
nothing at that last interview, he felt that a change had come into their
relationship. Her words had been more formal and more measured, and her last
kiss colder than before. He felt that he was on his trial; that if he did not
achieve something great she was lost to him.

And then there was the other—this English-American—who had not only got the
Great Secret, but the millions to put it into practice. He knew her high
ambitions. He knew that if she had to choose between love for a man, and the
fulfilment of a great project, the man would have but little chance. But he had
loved her since he knew the meaning of the word, and he had resolved to risk
everything that was left to him to win back what had once been within his
grasp. If in the end he failed and the other man won—well, so much the worse
for the other man.

And then there was Sophie Valdemar. Even if this English-American did take
Adelaide from him—But that was another matter, the fragment of a possible
destiny which still lay upon the knees of the gods. If the worst came to the
worst, what would Russia not give to know all that he knew and all that was
contained in the only legacy that his father had left him.

So thinking, he travelled to Paris, leaving his uniform behind him, and
dressed just as an ordinary man about town, quietly, but with exquisite care
and neatness.

As soon as he had settled himself in a modest hotel in one of the streets of
the Avenue de rOp6, he wrote a discreetly-worded note to one of the secretaries
of the Ministry of War, a former school-fellow of his, with whom he had had
previous communications of a confidential sort, asking him to arrange a private
interview for him with the Minister at the earliest possible date, and, if
possible, to dine with him the next evening. The next morning he called to pay
his respects to Madame de Bourbon and the marquise at the hotel they had taken
in the Avenue Neuilly.

He met the marquise alone in the salon. She received him quietly and almost
coldly—but this he had expected.

"So you have finally decided," she said. "I thought from your letter that you
would do so. How very different you look en civile! Really, although we
naturally hate the sight of them, still, it must be admitted that those German
uniforms do make a good-looking man look his best."

"Yes," replied Victor, choking down his chagrin as best he might; "to a
certain extent it is true, after all, that the feathers make the bird, and so,
of course, the clothes make the man. Still, I'm afraid I shall have to ask you
to tolerate me for the future without my German plumage. As you say, I have
made my decision. I have broken with Germany for ever. Henceforth, I am a son
of France—and, Adelaide, I have come to ask a daughter of France to help me to
serve her."

"Of France!" she echoed, drawing herself up, and looking at him with a half-
angry glint in her eyes, "of what France? Of this nation of snobs and
shopkeepers, ruled by a combination of stockbrokers, heavy-witted bourgeoisie
and political adventurers? or the old France—my France—the France of my
ancestors, as it was in the days when the great Louis said: ' L'etdt c'est moi
'? The one is not worth saving; the other might be worth restoring."

"But this France of the bourgeoisie must first be saved, so that we may make
out of it the foundation for the throne of the great Louis. If we succeed,
Adelaide, as it is still possible that we may do, we shall be strong enough to
abolish the salic law and to enthrone you as Empress of the French."

"Of France, if you please! My ancestors were Kings of France. Even the
Corsican dared only style himself Emperor of the French. You seem to forget
that I am a daughter of the Bourbons, a scion of the older line, and that
therefore France is my personal heritage. But come," she went on, with a swift
change of tone and manner, "it will be time enough to talk about that when I am
nearer to my inheritance than I am now. You said that you wanted my help—how?
What can I do now, left alone as I am?"

"Not quite alone, Adelaide," he said, half reproachfully. ldquo;Have I not
given up everything, even, as some would say, sacrificed honour itself, to help
you to win back that which is your own by every right? And you can help me as
no one else can. I have a friend in the Ministry of War—Gaston Leraulx, one of
the secretaries. We were school-fellows and college friends. He is to dine with
me to-night, and he will arrange an interview with the Minister of War. I shall
ask you to come with me to that interview."

"What do you say, Victor? You wish me, a princess of the House of Bourbon^ to
enter the bureau of one of these ministers—these politicians who are ruling in
the place of the old noblesse—men whom we might perhaps have employed as
lacqueys?"

"That is true," he replied; "but remember, Adelaide, that time brings its
differences. My ancestors were nobles when yours were kings. If the old order
of things is to be restored we must use these people as means to an end. I ask
you to come with me to the Minister of War, so that you may help me to convince
him, from your own knowledge, of the terrible mistake that he made when he
refused to entertain the project that my father placed before him.

"You can tell him that strange story of how my father in his despair committed
his body and his secret to the sea; how the sea gave it up into the hands of
our worst enemies—the enemies of yesterday, to-day, and to- morrow—England and
America; and how, even now, they are spending their millions upon that upon
which France would not even risk a few paltry thousands.

"When I place my papers before him he will see that they are identical with my
father's, and I shall give him others which will make it impossible for him to
doubt my faith; and you, you will be there to help me with your knowledge, with
the prestige of your name, and with your beauty. The General may be all that
you think him, but do not forget that he is a Frenchman, and that all Frenchmen
who are not quite mad respect and admire at least two things—"

"And those are—what?" she said, taking a couple of steps towards him, and
speaking in a low, earnest tone. "Am I to understand you to mean that this
man—I know that he is one of the most able men that France can boast of—might
perhaps be made an instrument of?"

"I mean," said Victor, taking her hand unresistingly, "that General Ducros is
himself an aristocrat, a man whose forefathers served yours well; that he is a
Frenchman whose spirit will recognise yours as being of similar lineage, whose
eyes will not be blind, and whose ears will not be deaf Surely, Adelaide, you
see by this time what I mean: you see how, with you, I may succeed in
everything, and, without you, I may fail. And, remember, if I fail there is an
end of everything. This is our last hope. If jit is not realised, these
accursed English and Americans will be masters of the situation, masters of the
world, indeed. Surely, Adelaide, for the sake of all that is past and all that
may be to come you will not say no?"

"No, Victor; I will not," she replied, still allowing her hand to rest in his,
and yet thinking the while of that other man, whose face was ever present to
her eyes, and whose voice was ever echoing in her ears. "I will visit this
Minister of yours with you. His name is good, and perhaps he may not be
unworthy of it. At any rate, he is not disgraced by one of those new titles of
the First or Second Empire. If I can help you I will; trust me for that. When
it is arranged send me a telegram and our carriage is at your disposal. Ah, who
is this?"

At this moment the door opened, and the lacquey announced:

"Monsieur le Comte de Valdemar; Ma'm'selle la Comtesse de Valdemar."

Victor Fargeau saw at a glance that the count and Sophie were dressed in half-
mourning, and instantly divined that their visit was one of condolence. This,
of course, gave him a most excellent excuse to make his adieux.

There was just a glimmer of taunting mockery in Sophie's brilliant eyes as she
recognised the dashing young cavalry officer in the sober garb of civil life,
but it passed like a flash, and as they shook hands she said: "A most
unexpected meeting, captain!" And then, with a look of frank challenge, "No
doubt it is most important business that has brought you to Paris en civile^

"It is not without importance, countess, at least to my own poor and presently
insignificant self Whether," he went on, with a swift involuntary glance at
Adelaide, who was receiving the condolences of the count, "it will ever be of
importance to others is one of the secrets of fate; and, if so, you, who are no
doubt justly credited with knowing half the secrets of Europe, will probably be
one of the first to discover the fact."

"I wonder whether that is intended for a compliment or the reverse," said
Sophie, with a look of challenge coming back into her eyes. "You see, captain,
there are two sorts of people who are supposed to know everything—diplomatists
and spies."

Her voice dropped almost to a whisper as she spoke the last word.

Victor did his best to preserve his composure, but Sophie's watchful eyes saw
that the shot had gone home; still, the next moment he replied, with the stiff
wooden-doll bow of the German officer, and without a tremor in his voice:

"It would be quite impossible that mam'selle could be anything but one of the
two."

As he raised his head she looked into his eyes again, and laughed outright.

"Well hit, captain! that was very nicely put. I think you and I would make
better friends than enemies, and in proof of my belief, let me tell you a
secret which is not of Europe. An Anglo-American syndicate has for some reason
or other leased several square miles round the Magnetic Pole in Boothia Land,
British North America."

"Really! And might I ask why? It doesn't seem to be a very profitable
investment in landed property."

"Who knows?" said Sophie, with a little shrug of her shapely shoulders. "These
English and Americans, you know, are always doing the maddest things. I
shouldn't wonder if they intended to turn the Aurora borealis into electric
light for Chicago."

"Nor I," said Victor. "And now, if you will permit me, I must say Au revoir."

"I wonder how much our ex-captain really knows, and if my dear friend Adelaide
here knows anything or not," said Sophie, in her soul, when Victor had made his
adieux and the door closed behind him.

CHAPTER XII

It was not until four days later that Victor's friend in the Ministry of War
was able to procure an appointment for him with General Ducros. Pressure of
business was Captain Gaston Leraulx' explanation, and it was an honest one.
What he did not know was that on the evening of the day when Count Valdemar and
his daughter paid their visit of condolence to Adelaide de Condd, General
Ducros dined with them.

They had no other guest, for the best of reasons. Countess Sophie, the
omniscient, by means of a happy accident, had got a fairly clear idea of the
outlines of the Great Storage Scheme. The servants of the White Tzar are
everywhere, known or unknown, generally the latter. A Russian trapper happened
to meet a French-Canadian voyageur in Montreal when Shafto Hardress was making
his negotiations with the Canadian Government. They had a few drinks and a talk
over the extraordinary deal that he had made with the Canadian Government, a
deal which had been reported and commented on by the Canadian and American
journals with the usual luxuriance of speculative imagination. The same night
the voyageur and the trapper, both men who were living on the products of their
season's hunting and trapping, cabled practically the same details to Paris and
Petersburg.

The voyageur's telegram had gone to General Ducros; and he, with the instinct
of a soldier and a statesman, had instantly connected it with the greatest
mistake that he had made in his life, his refusal to entertain the proposal
which Doctor Emil Fargeau had laid before him. He saw that he had refused even
to examine a scheme which this Anglo-American syndicate had somehow got hold of
and thought it worth their while to spend thousands of pounds even in
preliminary development. As he said to himself when the unwelcome news came to
him, "I have committed a crime—for I have made a mistake, and for statesmen
mistakes are something worse than crimes."

As soon as the Russian trapper's message had reached Count Valdemar, he
immediately discussed it with his daughter, who over and over again had given
proof of an almost clairvoyant insight into the most difficult and intricate
concerns of international diplomacy. The moment she saw it her instinct led her
back to the reception at the German Embassy in Petersburg.

"It was all very easy, after all, general," she said, when the dinner was
over, and the coffee and liqueurs were on the table. "If you will pardon me
saying so, it is in cases like this that the intuition of the woman outstrips
the logical faculty of the man. You have asked me how I discovered the
connection between the interview between yourself and Doctor Fargeau, which, as
you say, ended somewhat unhappily for France, and this extraordinary purchase
of a seemingly worthless landed property by Viscount Hardress."

"Ah yes," said the general, knocking the ash off his cigarette. "Statesmen are
not supposed to make mistakes, but to you, Ma'm'selle, and Monsieur le Comte, I
must confess, to my most intense chagrin, the man was an Alsatian, and had
accepted the new order of things in the provinces, he was a German subject, and
his son was a German officer on the' general staff. What could I think?"

"My dear general," replied Sophie, after a long whiff at her yellow Russian
cigarette, "your conclusions were perfectly just under the circumstances. But
when you have had your interview with Captain Fargeau and my dear friend the
marquise, I think you will find that, after all, they were erroneous. Do you
not think so, papa?"

"I fancy," replied the count, slowly, "that when you have made your
explanations to the general, he will agree with you."

"Very well, then, general, I will spin my little thread before you, and you
shall see whether it holds together or not. First, there was that snatch of a
conversation that I heard at the German Embassy reception in Petersburg.
Captain Fargeau was talking with the late Prince de Condd, and he was called
away by one of the servants. From another source I knew afterwards that he had
received a telegram from Strassburg. He came back, and made a pretence of
dancing with my very dear friend, Adelaide de Condd. They went out into the
winter garden, just in front of myself and my partner. I heard him tell her
that 'he' had succeeded, and gone to Paris.

"You have told me of his father's visit to you. The chief part of his scheihe
was the building of these works round the Magnetic Pole in Boothia Land. The
prince and Adelaide go to a little out-of-the-way place in Germany, called
Elsenau. The fashionable papers told us that. They also told us that Lord Orrel
and his daughter were there; and almost the same day arrives this Viscount
Branston, Lord Orrel's son. The prince suddenly and mysteriously dies—as they
say, from the bursting of a blood-vessel on the brain. Of course, all the
papers tell us of that, and also that Viscount Branston goes to Vienna and
brings back Madame de Bourbon, who is here now, in Paris, with Adelaide.

"Before this, you and my father have the telegrams from our good friends out
yonder in CanadeU Then the Canadian and American papers confirm this, and tell
us that this same Viscount Branston has leased this very spot of seemingly
worthless land, which was, as you tell us, essential to the carrying out of
Emil Fargeau's scheme, and that a great Anglo-American syndicate has been
formed to build an observatory there, or a central station for the control of
wireless telegraphy throughout the world; and so on. No doubt the newspaper
stories are as familiar to you as they are to us. Now, general, do you see the
connection between that scrap of conversation I heard in Petersburg, and the
purchase of that patch of snow-covered rock in Boothia Land?"

"Ma'm'selle," replied the general, "it is not a thread, but a chain, and there
is not a weak link in it. It is perfectly plain now that there is a connection
between this German officer, at present on leave in Paris, and these English
and Americans who have somehow become possessed of the details of the scheme
which I so unfortunately rejected. Still, until we have heard what Captain
Fargeau and your friend the Marquise de Montpensier, whom I am to have the
honour of receiving to-morrow, have to say, it would not, I think, be wise to
conclude that they have entered into a conspiracy with those whom I may
describe as our common enemies."

"That, general, I do not believe for a moment," said the count. "All their
interests lie the other way. They have as much reason to dislike England and
America as we have; and, until I know to the contrary, I shall prefer to
believe that the Marquise de Montpensier, a daughter of the Bourbons, is a
friend to France, and therefore, through France, to Russia."

"And I believe that too," said Sophie. "As far as England and America are
concerned, the interests of France and Russia are identical. If these arrogant
Anglo-Saxons are ever to be put into their proper place, Russia and France must
do it: and, to begin with, by some means or other, this scheme must be
frustrated. And now, general, I have given you a little information to- night,
and I am going to ask a little favour in return."

"It shall be granted, if possible. Ma'm'selle has only to ask it."

"There is, I believe," said Sophie, putting her arms on the table, "a little
apartment leading out of your own bureau at the Ministry of War?"

General Ducros could not help raising his eyelids a little, for he knew that
neither Sophie nor her father had ever been in that room, but he dropped them
again instantly, and said: "That is perfectly true, ma'm'selle; it is a little
apartment, devoted to my own private use. In fact, to tell you the truth, I am
sometimes there vifhen it is convenient for my secretary to prove by ocular
demonstration to some more or less important personage that I am not at home,
and that, in consequence of my unavoidable absence, an undesirable interview
has to be postponed."

"Exactly," laughed Sophie. "Such things are not unknown elsewhere; and I am
going to ask you, general, for the use of that room during your interview to-
morrow with the Marquise de Montpensier and Captain Fargeau. In other words, I
wish to be present at the interview without doing anything to interrupt the
smooth course of the proceedings."

"Ma'm'selle knows so much already that there is no reason why she should not
know more," replied the general, not very cordially; "but, of course, it is
understood, as a matter of honour between ourselves, that in this matter we are
allies, as our countries are."

"Undoubtedly," replied the count. "It would, indeed, be mutually impossible
for it to be otherwise."

"Then," said Sophie, "we will consider that a bargain. My father and I will
call shortly before the captain and Adelaide reach the Ministry, and
afterwards—"

"And afterwards, my dear general, if you will allow me to interrupt you," said
the count, "I would suggest that we should have a little dinner here, to which
Sophie will invite Madame de Bourbon and the marquise, as well as Captain
Fargeau; a dinner which, if you will permit me to say so, may possibly be of
historic interest; an occasion upon which, perhaps, the alliance between France
and Russia will be cemented by a mutual agreement and arrangement to outwit
these English-Americans, and secure the world-empire for France and Russia."

General Ducros assented. He saw that, owing to the fatal mistake he had made
when he rejected Emil Fargeau's scheme, he was now, thanks to the subtle
intellect of Sophie Valdemar, forced to share the possibility of obtaining that
world-empire with Russia, the ally whose friendship had already cost France so
dearly, an ally to whom France had paid millions for a few empty assurances and
one or two brilliant scenes in the international spectacular drama. No one knew
better than he did how worthless this alliance really was to France, and that
night he reproached himself bitterly for letting slip the chance of making
France independent of her blood-sucking ally. Still, by an extraordinary
combination of chance and skill, Sophie Valdemar had got the necessary
knowledge of the great secret, and, perforce, he had to share it with her and
Russia.

Punctually at eleven o'clock the next morning Adelaide de Condd and Victor
Fargeau were admitted to the bureau of the Minister of War. The interview was
very different from the one that he had granted to the man whom his scepticism
had practically driven to his death, and so placed the great secret in the
hands of his country's enemies. It was also much shorter. When, at the outset,
the general had addressed Victor as Captain Fargeau, he replied:

"Pardon, general, I am captain no longer, nor am not any longer a German. I
have resigned. Henceforth I am a Frenchman in fact, as I have always been in
heart. You would not believe that of my father, but I will prove it to you of
myself."

"My dear sir," replied the general, "no one could be more delighted to hear
such news as that than I; and I can promise you that, in that case, an
appointment—not, of course, an acknowledged one, since you are not now legally
a Frenchman—shall be placed at your disposal."

Adelaide turned her head away as he spoke, and her lips curled into a smile
which made her look almost ugly. "So now he is to become a paid spy," she
thought. "And he still considers that I am pledged to him. But what can I do
till we have either succeeded or failed? Ah, if it were only the other one! If
he were a Frenchman, or if only I could make him love me as I could—well, we
shall see. After all, patriotism has its limits. France has broken its
allegiance to my house. What do I owe it?"

General Ducros saw at a glance that the specifications which Victor handed to
him were the duplicates of those which he had so unwisely and so unfortunately
for himself and for France refused to accept from his father. If anything had
been needed to convince him of the terrible error that he had made, Adelaide's
story of the last night of her father's life would have done it.

"Monsieur," he said, laying his hand upon the papers, "I will confess that I
have made a great mistake, even that I have committed a crime against France
and your father. Alas, as we know now from the story that Ma'm'selle la
Marquise has told us, he is dead; and it is I who, innocently and unknowingly,
sent him to his death. I can do no more than admit my error, and promise you
that every force at my command shall be used to repair it, if possible. These
other documents, which you have been good enough to hand to me, I take, of
course, as an earnest of your good faith and your devotion to France."

"I wonder what they are," said Sophie Valdemar, in her soul, as the Minister's
words reached her ear through the closed door of the little private room. "An
Alsatian, a German officer, Military Attach^ at Petersburg, he resigns his
commission, goes back to his French allegiance, and gives the general something
which proves his good faith! Ah, perhaps a scheme of campaign—sketches of
routes—details of mobilisation—plans of fortresses! We must fight Germany soon.
I wonder whether I could persuade the good general to let me have a look at
them, if they are anything of that sort."

While these thoughts were flashing through Sophie's mind, the general was
saying:

"And now, monsieur, you mentioned a short time ago that you had a scheme for
repairing the error which I have confessed. May I ask for an outline of it? I
need hardly say that, if it is only feasible, France will spare neither money
nor men to accomplish the object, and to regain what I have so deplorably lost."

"My scheme, general," said Victor, "is exceedingly simple. These English-
Americans are going to erect storage works round the Magnetic Pole, which, as
of course you know, is situated in the far north, in a sort of No-man's Land,
untrodden by human feet once in half-a- century. Let France fit out an Arctic
expedition of two ships. Let them be old warships—as the Alert and Discovery
were in the English expedition. Their mission will, of course, be a peaceful
one, and their departure will cause no comment save in the scientific papers,
but in their holds the ships will carry the most powerful guns they can mount,
ammunition, and—"

"Excellent!" interrupted the general, rising from his seat. ldquo;My dear
monsieur, I congratulate you upon a brilliant idea. Yes, the expedition shall
be prepared with all speed; the newspapers shall describe the ships as old
ones, but the Minister of Marine and myself will arrange that they shall carry
the best guns and the most powerful explosives that we have. They shall be
manned by picked crews, commanded by our best officers; they shall sail for the
North Pole, or thereabouts, as all these expeditions do, and they shall make a
friendly call at Boothia Land. It will not be possible now before next summer
because of the ice; but the same cause will delay our friends in building the
storage works; and when our ships call and the works are well in progress—well,
then, we will see whether or not our friends will yield to logic; and, if not,
to force majeure. Is that your idea?"

"Exactly," replied Victor. "We will wait till the works are finished, say this
time next year, or two years or three years, it matters nothing, and then we
will take them. The expedition will carry men trained to do the work under my
orders. I have the whole working of the apparatus in those papers. Once we
possess the works we are masters of the world, because we shall be possessors
of its very life. But before that there may be war—the nations of Europe
fighting for the limbs of the Yellow Giant in the East. Germany, as you will
see from those papers, is nearly ready. It is only a matter of a few months,
and then she will make her first rush on France. England and America can be
rendered helpless if we once seize the works, and Russia can, I presume, be
trusted?"

"Without doubt," said the general. "Russia is our true and faithful ally."

"Yes," said Sophie again, in her soul; "provided she has a share in that Polar
expedition, as she shall have."

CHAPTER XIII

Nearly a year had passed since General Ducros had dined with Count Valdemar
and Ma'm'selle Sophie in Paris. It was Cowes week, and there was quite a
cosmopolitan party at Orrel Court. Adelaide de Conde and Madame de Bourbon were
the best of friends with Count Valdemar and Sophie. Clifford Vandel and Miss
Chrysie were good friends with everybody, the latter especially good friends
with Hardress, whose work was now rapidly approaching completion. In short, it
was as charming a cosmopolitan party as you could have found on the Hampshire
shore, or anywhere else; and none of the other guests of Lord Orrel, and there
were several of them not unskilled in diplomacy, ever dreamt that under the
surface of the smooth-flowing conversation, whether round the dinner- table at
the Court, on the Nadine, which ran down the Southampton Water every day that
there was a good race on, or at Clifford Vandel's bungalow at Cowes, whose
smoothly shaven lawn sloped down almost to the water's edge, lay undercurrents
of plot and counterplot, the issue of which was the question whether the
dominion of the world was to be committed to Anglo-Saxon or Franco- Slav hands.

One night—it was the evening after the great regatta—three conversations took
place under the roof of Orrel Court, which the greatest newspapers of the two
hemispheres would have given any amount of money to be able to report, since
each of them was possibly pregnant with the fate of the world.

When Clifford Vandel came up from the smoking-room a little after eleven he
found Miss Chrysie waiting for him in the sitting-room of the suite of
apartments that had been given to them in the eastern wing of the old mansion.

"Don't you think you ought to be in bed, Chrysie, instead of sitting there
smoking a cigarette, and—Why, what's the matter with you, girl?"

He had begun with something like a note of reproach in his voice, but the last
words were spoken in a tone of tender concern.

She got up from her chair, went to the door, and shut it and locked it, and
then, with her half-smoked cigarette poised between her fingers, her face pale,
and her eyes aflame, she faced him and said, in low, quick-flowing tones :

"Poppa, can't you see what's the matter?—you, who can see things months before
they happen, and make millions by gambling on them?—you who did up Morgan
himself over that wireless telegraphy combine—can't you see what's going on
right here just under your nose?"

"My dear Chrysie, what are you talking about? I've not noticed anything
particular happening, except what's happened in the right way. What's the
trouble?"

"The trouble's that Frenchwoman—that second edition of Marie Antoinette. Can't
you see what she's doing every hour and day of her life? Can't you see that
she's as beautiful as an angel, and—well, as clever as the other thing, and
that she's just playing her hand for all she's worth to get the man I want—the
man I half- promised myself to a year ago!"

"Perhaps I've been too busy about other matters, and perhaps I never expected
anything of the sort," replied her father; "and anyhow, men are fools at seeing
this kind of thing; but if that's so, and you really do want him, why not
promise yourself altogether and fix things up? There's no man I'd sooner have
for a son-in-law; and if you want him, and he wants you, why—"

"It's just there, poppa, that I'm feeling bad about it," she said, coming
nearer to him, and speaking with a little break in her voice. "I'm not so sure
that he does want me now—at least, not quite as badly as he did that time when
he asked me first in Buiifalo. Don't you see that Frenchwoman's bewitched him?
And who could blame him, after all? What do all the society papers say about
her? The most beautiful woman in Europe—the great-great-grand- daughter of
Louis the Magnificent himself, with the noblest blood of France in her veins!
How could any man with eyes in his head and blood in his heart resist her? Why,
I could no more compare with her than—"

"Than a wild rose in one of these beautiful English lanes could compare with a
special variety of an orchid in a hothouse; and I guess, Chrysie, that if I
haven't made a great mistake about Shafto Hardress—if he does get a bit
intoxicated with the scent of the orchid, if it comes to winning and wearing
the flower, he'll take the wild rose. If he doesn't—well, I guess you'll do
pretty well without him."

"But I just can't do without him, poppa. You are the only one I'd tell it to,
but that's so; and before that Frenchwoman gets him I'd have her out and shoot
her. Women in her country fight duels. And there's more to it than that," she
went on, after a little pause.

"And what might that be. Miss Fire-eater?" said her father, half- laughing,
half-seriously.

"I believe that she and that Russian girl, who goes languishing around Shafto
when the marquise or myself isn't around, know more than they should do about
this storage scheme. I don't say I've been listening—I wouldn't do it—no, not
even for them; but sometimes you can't help hearing; and only the day before
yesterday, out in the grounds there, I heard both of them, not to each other,
but at different times to Count Valdemar, mention the name of Victor Fargeau;
and you know who he is—son of the man whose remains Shafto picked up at
sea—creator of this great scheme of yours—a Frenchman who was an officer in the
German army. Now listen: both these women are friends of General Ducros, the
French War Minister. France is sending out the Polar expedition this year that
she has been preparing for months—you know that; so has Russia. Do you see what
I mean now?"

"I guess you've got me on my own ground there, Chrysie," said her father,
laying his hand across her shoulders, and drawing her towards him. "You were
dead right when you said that a woman's intuition can sometimes see quicker and
farther than a man's reason; but on that kind of ground I guess I can see as
well as anyone. I admit that I have been wondering a bit why just this
particular year France and Russia should be sending two Polar expeditions out;
but it's pretty well sure that if you hadn't seen that this French marquise and
the Russian countess were after the man you want—and the man you're going to
get, too, if he's the man I think he is—I shouldn't have seen what I see now."

"And what's that, poppa?"

"They're not Polar expeditions at all, Chrysie; those ships are no more trying
to go to the North Pole than they're trying to find the source of the Amazon.
You got the key that opens the whole show when you heard them talking about
Victor Fargeau. They're going to Boothia Land, that's where they're going to,
and they're not going on what the Russians generally call a voyage of
scientific discovery. I'd bet every dollar we've got in the Trust that those
ships have guns on them, and there's going to, be a fight for that Magnetic
Pole after all. Anyhow, there's a cable going across to Doctor Lamson the first
thing to- morrow morning. If there's anything like that going on, he can't be
on guard any too soon. And now, little girl," he went on, raising his hand and
putting it on her head, "you go to bed, and don't you worry about Frenchwomen
or Russians. Shafto Hardress comes of good old English and American stock, and
he's just as clever as he can be without being altogether American. Don't you
worry about him. There's not going to be any trouble in his mind when he has to
choose between a clean-blooded, healthy American girl and anyone else, even if
she has got all the blood of all the Bourbons in her veins, or even if she is
the daughter of Count Valdemar of Russia, whose ancestors, I guess, were half
savages when yours were gentlemen. Don't you worry about that, little girl; you
just go to bed, and dream about the time when you'll be sitting on a throne
that Marie Antoinette's wasn't a circumstance to. Now, I have told you, and
that's so. Good- night. I'll have a talk with Lord Orrel to-morrow morning, and
see to the business part of the affair."

As Chrysie crossed the long corridor to her own room she caught a glimpse of a
tall, graceful figure which she had come to know only too well, and the sweep
of a long, trailing skirt, vanishing through a door which she knew led into
Count Valdemar's dressing-room.

"That's Sophie," she said. "I wonder if she saw me. She's been with the
marquise, I suppose; and now she's going to have a talk with her father,
something like mine with poppa. It's mean to listen, and I couldn't do it if I
wanted to, but I'd like to give some of those dollars that poppa's going to
make out of this scheme to hear what she's going to say, or what she's been
saying to the marquise. I reckon I could make some history out of it if I knew;
but anyhow, there's going to be trouble with that Frenchwoman. I don't think so
much about the Russian. I believe she wants to marry either Lord Orrel or
poppa; she's just about as mean as she is pretty and clever. I'd just like to
say that English swear-word about her."

Miss Chrysie said that, and many other things, in her soul that night after
she had laid her head on her pillow; and, even after the demands of physical
fatigue upon a perfectly healthy physique had compelled slumber, she dreamt of
herself as a modern Juno, usurping the throne of Jove, and wielding his
lightnings, with the especial object of destroying utterly from the face of the
earth two young ladies, with whom she was living on apparent terms of the most
perfect friendship, and who were even then resting their pretty heads on
pillows just like hers under the same roof.

CHAPTER XIV

Sophie opened the door in answer to her father's murmured "entrez," and closed
it very gently behind her. She had not noticed Chrysie as she slipped into her
own room, for her back was towards her, and, happily, she had no suspicion
whatever of the conclusions which Chrysie's love—sharpened eyes had enabled her
to reach. If she had, some skilfully, devised accident would probably have
happened. For though but two people among the guests at Orrel Court knew it,
there were spies both inside and around the great house, unscrupulous agents of
an unscrupulous government, who would have carried out their orders at all
hazards. In fact, they had been brought there by Count Valdemar, at his
daughter's suggestion, to assist in working out the most daring conspiracy that
had ever been hatched at an English country house.

"Well, papa," said Sophie, in her soft Russian, as she took a cigarette, and
dropped into an easy-chair with a motion that was almost voluptuous in its
gracefulness, "now that these good people have gone to bed, we shall be able to
have a little quiet talk. Are you still of opinion that the scheme that I
sketched out is feasible?"

"Everything is feasible, my dear Sophie," replied her father, "provided only
you have people of sufficient genius and boldness to carry it out. No doubt it
would be possible with our own people, and those of the English sailors whom we
have been able to bribe, to carry out that brilliant plan of yours, especially
as you appear to have wrought such a magical transformation in the allegiance
of this impressionable young engineer of yours on the Nadine. Are you quite
sure of him?"

"Sure of him!" said Sophie, in a voice that was little above a whisper, and
leaning forward and looking at her father with a smile which made even him
think her beauty almost repulsive for the moment. "Edward Williams is as much
in love as Boris Bernovitch was, and is—although he is where he is. I have
promised, as usual. He has believed me, as usual, just like any other fool of
his sex. Day after day I have met him and talked with him in what he calls my
adorable foreign English. I have given, him rendezvous which would have
startled my Lord Orrel and all his belongings out of that abominable, habitual
calm of theirs, and perhaps procured me a request to leave the house
immediately. I have fooled him out of his seven senses, and to- night I have
performed the supreme sacrifice for Russia, and let him kiss me."

The cruelly smiling lips changed into an expression of contemptuous disgust as
she said this, and the count replied, coldly:

"Not a pleasant duty, Sophie; but for Holy Russia her servants must do
everything. That, as I have tried to teach you almost as soon as you could
speak, is our duty, almost our religion. Our fortune, our lives, our everything
must be devoted to the emperor and to Holy Russia—soon now, I hope, to be
mistress of the world. You as a woman, and a beautiful woman, have your
weapons; I as a man, and a diplomatist, have mine. It is your duty to use yours
with as little scruple as I use mine.

"And so you really think," he went on, after a little pause, "that it will be
possible to capture the Nadine, with all her noble and gallant company on
board, and compel her to join our Russian expedition to Boothia Land.
Certainly, it would be a brilliant triumph if we could. We should have all the
heads of the great Trust at our mercy—Lord Orrel, his son, and this most
objectionably straight-forward Cliiiford Vandel, who, it would appear, has so
vastly improved upon the original scheme. Then we should have the womankind
too—Lady Olive, Miss Vandel, and the beautiful marquise herself, always
dangerous power that might work against us. By way, Sophie, has it struck you
that the young viscount is wavering in his allegiance to the fair American
under the influence of the beautiful daughter of the Condés?"

"As well ask me whether I am a woman, father," she replied, with a low, wicked-
sounding laugh. "Have I no eyes in my head? Did not this fair American
interfere with my plan for securing the noble Shafto to ourselves by making him
fall in love with her before I saw him, and have I not done everything, all the
thousand and one little things that a woman can do, to help my dear friend the
marquise to the attainment of her very evident desires? In other words, have I
forgotten the lessons that you have been teaching me since you began to train
me to think myself not a girl with a heart and a soul, and living blood in her
veins, but only a human machine, fair to look upon, animated by a brain which
knows ,no other duty than the service of our Holy Russia? You know that if I
had loved this man myself it would have been just the same. I should have done
exactly as I have done,—at least, I believe so."

"Ah," laughed the count, softly, "that is the problem, my dear Sophie; and
that, I tell you frankly, has always been my fear for you. You are young,
brilliant, and beautiful; and I've always been a little afraid that out of some
of all your admirers whom your smiles have brought to your feet there might be
one whom you might love; and when a woman loves she pities, and pity and
diplomacy have as much to do with each other as charity and business. Still, I
am not without hopes that some day you will meet some worthy son of Russia; and
remember, my Sophie, that, if we succeed in this, if we place the control of
the elixir vitae of the world in the hand of Russia, you might look even near
the throne itself."

"And I most certainly should," said Sophie, throwing her head back. "I tell
you frankly, papa, I'm not doing all this for nothing. I am not forgetting that
I am a woman, with all a woman's natural feelings and inspirations, all her
possible loves and hopes and pities, only for the sake of serving even Russia.
If I succeed I shall have my reward, and it shall be a splendid one."

"And you will have well deserved it," said the count, looking with something
more than fatherly pride on the beautiful daughter who had learnt the lessons
of what he was pleased to call diplomacy so well. "Still, I cannot disguise
from myself that this last scheme of yours is, to say the least of it, a
desperate one; for it amounts to nothing less than a kidnapping of one of the
best-known noblemen and statesmen in England, his son and daughter, one of the
wealthiest and best-known American financiers in the world and his daughter; to
say nothing of one of the Ministers of the Tsar and his daughter. I need hardly
remind you, of course, that the failure of such a venture would never be
forgiven in Petersburg. I need not tell you that the Little Father never
pardons mistakes, and, besides, my dear Sophie, have you quite satisfied
yourself that such a very extreme measure is absolutely necessary?"

"My dear papa," said Sophie, getting up from her chair, and raising her voice
ever so little, "in the first place, there will be—there can be no mistake
about it; and, in the second place, I assure you that it is absolutely
necessary if Russia is to have undisputed control of the Storage Works. You
see, the outside world knows absolutely nothing about these works. There have
been all sorts of stories circulated about them, but no one who has actually
seen them has said or written a word about them. In fact, as far as we know,
only two men have been there and come back—Viscount Branston and Mr Vandel; Dr
Lamson is there still. How do we know what means of defence they've got? They
might be able even now, from what Victor Fargeau and General Ducros told us, to
demagnetise our ships, stop our engines from working and our guns from
shooting; or, on the other hand, what would be almost as bad, this Lamson might
blow up the works and shatter every plan we've got—perhaps ruin all prospects
of the invasion, too, unless we have some means of persuading him not to use
his power. What better means could we have than the possession of the heads of
the concern?

"I have heard hints, too, that he is not without hopes of winning the fair
Lady Olive some day, when he becomes one of the masters of the world. Granted
now that it is within our power to do what we please with all of them, or, if
you like to put it diplomatically, with the heads of this gigantic conspiracy
against the peace and security of the world, and plot to destroy the
independence of the nations and the freedom of humanity, for it is nothing
else, should we not be justified in using any and every means—yes," she went
on, her voice hardening, "even to the very last means of all, to snatch this
tremendous power out of the hands of these sordid English and Americans and
give it into those of Holy Russia. It is kidnapping, piracy, invasion of
friendly territory—everything, I grant you, that is criminal under the law of
nations; but remember it is also a struggle for the command of the life- force
of the world—which means practically the control of the world itself and all
that therein is."

"And," said the count, smiling, "I suppose you would say that, as these people
are our natural enemies, with whom we shall very soon be at war— 'à la guerre
comme à la guerre'—I suppose you mean that when we have got the Nadine and her
noble company we shall use them as hostages to prevent any accidents happening
to our little Polar expedition. Really, my dear Sophie, your methoda have
suddenly become almost mediaeval; still, if theyi are only successful, they
will be none the less effectivel for that. Let me see now," he went on, leaning
back | in his chair and putting the tips of his fingers together, "I wonder if
I can find any flaw in the arrangements. You know, it is quite essential, my
dear Sophie, that there should not be any."

"My dear papa," she replied, smiling, and leaning I her back against the old
carved mantelpiece, "try,] by all means. If you cannot find one, I don't think/
there can be much chance of its being anything but practically perfect."

"Very well," said the count, lighting a fresh i cigarette. ldquo;In two or
three days' time, when thel regattas are over, the house-party at Orrel Court
will break up, and a few days after that, say a week in all. Lord Orrel, with
his son and daughter, and the American and his daughter, and Ma'm'selle la
Marquise as Lady Olive's guest, are taking a trip across the Atlantic in the
Nadine, partly in the course of business and partly on pleasure bent; Madame de
Bourbon and her maids return to Paris; the Vlodoya puts into Southampton the
day the Nadine sails, to take us on our trip to the Mediterranean. Your good
friend the lieutenant has informed you that, although the Nadine can make
twenty knots on an emergency, she will only take a leisurely summer trip across
the Atlantic to Boston, at about twelve or fifteen. He has given you a chart of
the course which she will take. He has also promised you that at a certain spot
in mid-Atlantic there shall be a little accident to her engines which enable
the Vlodoya to overtake her. The Vlodoya, commanded and well-manned by good
servants of the empire, with a couple of three-pounders and a Maxim in case of
accident, will overhaul her and give her the alternative of surrender or
sinking. That is where the piracy will begin, I, suppose."

Sophie nodded, and, laughing, replied in English: "Yes, right there —as our
American beauty, as Lord Hardress thinks her, would say. The Nadine is unarmed,
and, of course, resistance will be useless; in fact, it would simply be the
merest folly. His lordship will accept us and a portion of the Vlodoya' s crew
as self-invited guests; we shall then steam I away together, not to Boston, but
to the rendezvous with our little expedition, and once we join forces—well, the
thing is practically done."

"I agree so far," said her father; "still, there are one or two accidents that
we have not yet taken into account. Suppose, for instance, one of these
detestable Pritish cruisers, which seem to be everywhere, should nappen to be
there just then; or that even one of the big liners should come in sight at the
critical inoment. It seems to me that, for the present at east, secrecy is
above all things essential, for if ihe news of—well, such an outrage, did get
back to Europe, you know perfectly well that Russia would )f necessity disown
us, and that we and all on board he Vlodoya would simply be treated as common
pirates."

"So I suppose," said Sophie, coolly; "but I have provided for that, because
the day and place of endezvous have been arranged so as to avoid the
possibility of meeting any of the regular liners, and I have been careful to
ascertain that no British warship will just then be under orders to cross the
Atlantic, either from the North American station or from England. As for the
piracy, I don't think we need trouble ourselves about that. Before many weeks
France must forestall Germany's attack; Russia will, as we say, maintain the
attitude of benevolent neutrality until she hears that we have got the works,
then she will demand the surrender of the British concessions in China which
conflict with her interests, and there will be war, and our actions, however
drastic, will become legal under the law of war. In fact, my dear papa, as far
as I can see, there is really only one possibility that I have not reckoned
with, and that, as far as I can see, is an impossibility."

"And what is that? It is just as well we should see them all."

"It is the possibility that these English or Americans—you know how quick they
are at all practical methods, pig-headed and all as they are at diplomacy—have,
by some means or other, guessed that the French and Russian Polar expeditions
have started at rather a suspicious time; I mean just when the Storage
Works—these wonderful works, which are to light the world by electricity for a
few pence an hour, and give us displays of the Aurora borealis, just as we have
fireworks at public f&tes, and all the rest of it—have been completed. Now
that, if you like, would be dangerous; for in such delicate work as ours
success depends on surprise. Still, as I say, it is hardly possible."

"Practically impossible, I should agree with you, my dear Sophie," said the
count, making the greatest mistake of his diplomatic career; "practically
impossible. What do they know? What can they suspect?"

"Unless—unless," said Sophie, suddenly, clenching her hands, "our good friend
Adelaide de Condé, who, I tell you, papa, is in love with Shafto Hardress, if
woman ever was in love with man, unless she has hinted at the real meaning of
these expeditions. Yes; that is a danger which, I admit, I have not counted."

"Yes, yes; I think I see what you mean," replied the count; "she is a
Frenchwoman, but her only interest in the destiny of France consists in the
restoration of the House of Bourbon to power; still, being a Frenchwoman, and
in love, as you believe, she would also do anything for the sake of the man she
loves, even to the ruin of her own hopes. Finally, being on this supposition
the rival of Miss Vandel, she would stop at nothing to prove her devotion to
him; and, if she did as you suggest, Sophie, it would be a very formidable
condition of affairs indeed."

"Then, papa," she replied, coming and laying her hand on his shoulder, "do you
not see that that is all the greater reason why this scheme of ours must be
carried through? You see that Adelaide de Condé may herself become a source of
the greatest danger; but when we have not only her, but Miss Vandel and the man
they are both in love with, as well as the two papas and Lady Olive, completely
in our power, when, for example, we could land them all on one of those
drifting ice-floes, to float away to somewhere where no one but the seals and
bears would know what had become of them, the game would be in our hands to
play as we please."

"My dear Sophie," said the count, laying his hand upon hers, "I am delighted
to see that you have the courage of your convictions. And now, it is very late,
or, rather, early, and I think you may as well go to bed and dream of success,
for you have convinced me that failure is, to all intents and purposes,
impossible."

As Sophie Valdemar stole quietly away to bed Clifford Vandel was finishing a
long cable dispatch in cipher to Doctor Lamson, giving him a complete account,
so far as he knew, of all that had been taking place in Europe during the last
few weeks, and concluding with the words: "I have good reason to believe that
the supposed French and Russian Polar expeditions, which will be in your
latitude in a few weeks, are really intended for the capture or destruction of
the Storage Works; so take every possible precaution against attack or
surprise."

CHAPTER XV

While all this plotting and counter-plotting had been going on in England and
Europe, and France, thanks to what some might call the patriotic treachery of
Victor Fargeau, was rapidly preparing for an invasion of Germany, which a
magnificently-equipped army of nearly four million men meant to make a very
different affair to the last one; while Russia was swiftly and secretly massing
her huge military and very formidable naval forces in the near and far east,
and England had, as usual, been muddling along, chattering over reforms on land
and sea without getting them done; and while Germany, for once about to be
taken unawares, was quietly getting ready for the' inevitable struggle, a
quiet, broad-browed, deep-eyed man had been at the head of an army of workmen,
building up what was intended to be the real capital and governing centre of
the world. In the midst of a broad, barren plain, broken by great masses of
rock, many of them snow-capped and ice-crowned even in the middle of the
northern summer, there rose the walls and chimneys of what looked like a
commonplace collection of factories, such as might be found in any of the
manufacturing districts of Europe and America.

About four miles to the west, under a rocky promontory which the discoverer of
this desolate land had named Cape Adelaide, little thinking what a connection
it would have with another Adelaide, there was a small natural harbour,
navigable for about five months in the year, constantly crowded with colliers.
For over a year it had been packed with them. Before the previous winter set in
they had been laden with coal and machinery and building materials, and
throughout the long winter Doctor Lamson had relentlessly pushed the work on
under rows of electric lights, which rivalled the Aurora itself.

The men were well housed and fed and lavishly paid, and so, in spite of the
cold and darkness, they had worked well and cheerfully, well knowing that it
was impossible for them to get back, save in the steamers that brought them. By
the time the ice broke and the vessels were released another long line of them
was already making its way up through the still half-frozen waters of Davis
Strait and Lancaster Sound, laden with more coal, materials, and machinery. A
telegraph line had been taken from Port Nelson across Hudson Bay over Rae
Isthmus, and then through the Gulf of Boothia to the works, and this put Dr
Lamson in direct communication with Winnipeg and the rest of the world.

At intervals of two hundred miles, across the icy desert of the north, groups
of huge steel masts, three hundred feet high, had been erected, and these had
been continued singly or in pairs over all the principal elevations of the
North American Continent, and also over Greenland and Iceland to the north of
Scotland, and thence to the rest of the British Islands. It was a miracle that
could only have been wrought by millions, but the millions were spent without
stint, in the full knowledge that they would be repaid in the days when it was
possible to tax the world for the privilege of living.

The Storage Works were in the form of a square, measuring four hundred feet
each way. In the exact centre of an interior square measuring fifty feet each
way was that mysterious spot of earth where the needle of the compass points
neither to north nor south nor east nor west, but straight down to the centre
of the globe; and over it was built a great circular tower, forty feet in
diameter and a hundred feet in height, which contained a gigantic reproduction
of the instrument which had stood on Doctor Emil Fargeau's table in his
laboratory at Strassburg on that memorable night when he had completed the work
which was destined to lead to his own ruin and death and to the revolutionising
of the world.

From this tower ran underground, in all directions, thousands of copper cables
leading to the gigantic storage batteries with which the greater part of the
buildings were filled. In the middle of each side of the great square a two
thousand horse-power engine was ready to furnish the necessary electrical force
in the absorber, as the great apparatus in the centre was called.

Everything was in order to commence work; in fact. Doctor Lamson had just
decided that he would try his engines together for the" first time, when
Clifford Vandel's telegram reached him from Southampton.

His agent in Winnipeg had kept him well informed of the principal events going
on in the world during his long isolation, and the sailing of the French and
Russian Polar expeditions via Davis Straits had not escaped him. For a few
minutes after he had read the dispatch he walked up and down the telegraph
room, into which no one but himself and Austin Vandel, Clifford's nephew and
his own general manager, could under any circumstances gain admission, since
none but they knew the combinations of the lock which opened the steel door.

Austin was sitting at the table where he had received the message, and he
broke the silence by saying:

"I guess, doctor, that looks a bit ugly. I suppose it's that Alsatian
Frenchman and that pretty Frenchwoman you were telling me about that's fixed
this up."

"There's not the slightest doubt about that," said Lamson, whose enthusiasm
for the great scheme had quite overcome his earlier scruples. "If we had only
known of that other set of specifications, and managed to get hold of them
somehow—still that wouldn't have done much good, because even then the
Frenchwoman, this beautiful daughter of the Bourbons as they call her, would
have given it away as soon as she guessed what we were doing; and if she hadn't
done so—well, Fargeau would have done so; so I suppose after all it's
inevitable."

"Then you think we'll have to fight for it?" said Austin.

"If those expeditions are really armed forces, and their object is to take
these works by hook or by crook, of course we must," replied Lamson. "Poor
devils! I wonder what they'll feel like when we turn the disintegrators on
them?"

"Don't talk about those," said Austin. "Time enough for that when we have to
use them to save ourselves—which the Lord forbid. I sha'n't forget that
experiment of yours on poor Hudson's body; but to see it turned on to a living
man! Great Scott!"

"Yes; it won't be very pleasant," said Lamson, whose rather gentle and
retiring nature had become completely transformed under the influence of the
gigantic possibilities which were now at his disposal. "But suppose they get
their ships up to Port Adelaide?—it's rather curious, by the way, that it
should have the same name as that Frenchwoman, who, I suppose, is by this time
about our most dangerous and determined enemy—but suppose they get them there,
and begin knocking the works about with big guns. Suppose," he went on, with
something like a shudder, "a shell bursts in the absorber, where are we? And,
mind you, if they come they'll bring Fargeau with them; and if they took us
prisoners or killed us, he would have material enough here to make another
one—and he would know how to do it. No, no, Vandel; if I have to defend the
works I'll do it. My whole life and soul are here now, and no Frenchman or
Russian sets foot inside here while I'm alive, unless he comes as a prisoner."

"But look here," said Austin; "couldn't you paralyse 'em? Why not set the
engines to work, and mop up this world's soul, or whatever you call it, right
away, so that their engines should break down long before they got here, and
just freeze them out."

"That, my dear Austin," replied the doctor, "is a rather more hasty remark
than I should have expected you to make. Don't you see that if we were to start
the engines, and cut off our American communications, as would be necessary, we
should not only paralyse the expedition, we should also paralyse the whole of
Canada and the United States, cut off our communications with England, and make
it impossible for our friends to communicate with us, or for them to come
here—as they are doing this month."

"Guess I spoke a bit too soon," said Austin. "That's so; and, of course, we
couldn't do it."

The doctor continued his walk up and down the room for a few moments longer,
then stopped and said suddenly, "No; but I'll tell you what we can and will do
if there's going to be any of this sort of foul play about. The president and
all our friends will be much safer here than in any other part of the world,
for if we have to starve the world out they'll be all right here. Wire to your
uncle; say that we have received his message and are acting upon it, and tell
him to bring the whole party here with the utmost speed; call it a pleasure-
trip or a tour of inspection, or what they please, but they must come at once,
and, above all, they must get here before these so-called Polar expeditions."

"That's the talk, doctor," exclaimed Austin; "you've got right down on to it
this time. I'll fix that up in the code and send it right away."

There is, of course, neither day nor night during June in Boothia Land, only a
little deepening of the twilight towards midnight, but the message was
despatched via Winnipeg a little after nine in the evening, according to
conventional time, and so Clifford Vandel was able to decipher it in his
sitting-room at Orrel Court before breakfast the next morning. The carriages
were already waiting to take the party down to the Nadine's berth at
Southampton Water as soon as possible after an early breakfast, for there was
to be a race round the Isle of Wight for cruising yachts that day, and some of
the finest yachts in the two hemispheres were going to compete, the Nadine and
several other steam-yachts, including the Vlodova, belonging to the Grand Duke
Ruric, were to follow the race, and the day was to wind up with supper at
Clifford Vandel's bungalow at Cowes.

Therefore the moment he had finished translating the cipher, without waiting
even for breakfast, he sent his man to ask Lord Orrel and his son for the
favour of a few minutes' private conversation in his lordship's library. This
man was the brother of the Countess Sophie's French maid—deaf, handy, silent,
and wonderfully well up to his work. He had engaged him on the count's
recommendation, after dismissing his English valet on the instant for, as he
thought, trying to learn more than he ought to know from his correspondence. It
is scarcely necessary to add that Ma'm'selle Sophie knew as much about the one
as she did about the other; and, as a matter of fact, she had procured both
appointments. This being so, it was only natural that within a very few minutes
Count Valdemar and his daughter should have heard of the receipt of the
telegram, and Clifford Vandel's request for an interview with Lord Orrel and
his son. The immediate result was two interviews before breakfast instead of
one.

"What can it mean, papa?" said Sophie, when she had softly locked her father's
door. "Jules says that the dispatch was brought up from Southampton this
morning. Before he gave it to Mr Vandel he, of course, steamed the envelope and
looked at it. It was in cipher, as one might expect; but it came from Winnipeg,
and Winnipeg is the one point of communication between Boothia and the rest of
the world. Mr Vandel translated it at once, and immediately went to talk to
Lord Orrel and the viscount about it. I wonder whether—but no, that's
impossible. We couldn't have been overheard, and no one that knows anything of
our plans could have any possible inducement to betray us. The marquise told me
that she had a letter from Fargeau yesterday: I wonder if she has said
anything."

"My dear Sophie," replied her father, "as I told you the night before last, a
woman in love is a woman lost to all purposes of diplomacy, unless her
interests and those of the man she is in love with are identical. Here they are
diametrically opposed; a word from her to the viscount would ruin everything—at
least, so far as the expeditions are concerned."

"All the more reason then," said Sophie, clenching her hands, "that we—I mean
that the Vlodoya should capture the Nadine with all these people on board her.
If we have them at our mercy we have everything. I would give a good deal to
know what there was in that dispatch that Clifford Vandel had this morning."

"And so would I," replied her father; "a great deal. Do you think that if your
maid were to promise her brother, say £500, for the transcription which Vandel
must have made of it, there would be any chance of getting it?"

"We can only try," replied Sophie. "The old gentleman is very careful about
his papers, they tell me; still, we will try."—

"Well, gentlemen," said Clifford Vandel, about the same moment in Lord Orrel's
library, "I think you will agree with me that the doctor would not have sent a
dispatch like this without pretty good reason; and if these people mean pushing
matters to extremity, why, of course, it might be necessary for him to, as he
says here, freeze them out, in which case they couldn't get there. And if they
couldn't we couldn't; wherefore it seems good reasoning to say that we ought to
be there iirst—if we're going to get there at all."

"My dear Vandel," replied his lordship, "it is the best of reasoning; and I am
quite sure that Doctor Lamson would not have dreamt of sending such a dispatch
without good reasons, and I think I am justified in telling you that this
morning I received a confidential letter from an old colleague of mine in the
Foreign Office, in which he says that, according to reports of our agents, both
in France and Germany, an outbreak of hostilities may occur at any moment
within the next few weeks, without warning—^just as it did in 1870."

"Then," said Hardress, sharply, "if that is so, there simply must be some
connection between that and the dispatch of these two expeditions. I don't
often jump to conclusions, Mr Vandel, but I think now that Miss Chrysie was
perfectly right. They're not going to try and get to the Pole at all. It's the
Magnetic Pole they want, and they'll be there this summer if we don't find some
way to stop them ; and I quite agree that we ought to get there first. It may
be necessary to show Europe that they can't get on without us, even in the
matter of fighting."

"Very well, then," said Lord Orrel, "we'll call that settled; we'll make it a
summer Arctic trip. How soon can you get us across the Atlantic, Hardress?"

"I can land you in Halifax in six days. We'll coal up there; and, if we're not
too much crowded with ice, I'll get you to Rae Isthmus in six days more.
Meanwhile I will telegraph to Lamson to have one of his steamers waiting for us
on the other side of the Isthmus, and in another week, including the land
travel, which may be difficult, we will be at the works. Or, if we find the sea
fairly clear, we'll steam straight up to Fox Channel, Kury's Strait, and take
you straight to Boothia Land. At any rate, the expeditions are only just
starting, one from Havre and the other one from Riga, and, at that rate, we
should certainly be there a clear month before them, even if they really are
going."

"Then," said Clifford Vandel, slowly but gravely, "if that's so, I guess the
best thing we can do is to get there as quickly as possible and start the
circus as soon as we can. If Europe means fighting—well, we can't have a better
way of proving our power, and showing France and Germany and the rest of them
that it will pay them to deal with the Great Storage Trust, than by just making
their own war impossible. When they find they can't even fight without our
permission, I guess they'll pretty soon come to terms."

"I agree with you entirely, my dear Vandel," said Lord Orrel.

CHAPTER XVI

That same morning, as it happened, Adelaide received a letter from Victor
Fargeau, dated from Paris, telling her, among other things, that the two
alleged Polar expeditions would be ready to start in a fortnight's time, and
that he had been appointed to, as he put it, the scientific command of the
French one. There had been a considerable amount of veiled friction between the
French and Russian governments as soon as they had both been compelled to admit
to each other the true object of the expeditions, and it was even suspected
that the Russian government was secretly preparing a much more formidable
scientific expedition of four vessels—including their celebrated ice- breaker
Ivan the Terrible, a vessel built in an English yard for the purpose of
breaking up the Baltic ice in winter, in order to keep the ports free and the
Russian Baltic squadron always serviceable.

With such a vessel, to lead it the Russian expedition would be quite certain
of reaching Boothia Land whatever the condition pf the ice might be, because
she would be able to clear a course for her consorts through it. All the
probabilities were, therefore, in favour of the Russian squadron getting to
Boothia Land first. If they did that, and were successful in getting possession
of the works, it was not very likely that Russia would be inclined to share the
dominion of the world with the ally she had already bled so freely, and in this
case France would be once more robbed of the fruits of his father's discovery.

Soon after afternoon tea on the lawn of Clifford Vandel's bungalow, Adelaide
said to Sophie, as they sat in their deck-chairs beside each other:

"I am given to understand that Russia is quite determined to reach the Pole,
if possible, in this next expedition."

"The Pole?" laughed Sophie, with a swift glance under her half-lowered
eyelids. "My dear marquise, surely you are joking with me a little
unnecessarily. Which Pole?"

"Really, my dear countess, I am speaking quite seriously," she replied,
turning her head on her cushion, and looking at her companion with somewhat
languid eyes. "I presume, of course, it must be the North Pole—because I hear
from a quite reliable source that your government is sending out the big ice-
breaker—the Ivan the Terrible, you know; and that would hardly be necessary to
get to the other Pole, the one that you perhaps mean, unless, of course, they
wished to make certain of getting there as quickly as possible."

Sophie would have given a great deal to know the source of this information,
which had only reached her father a day or so before, but it was, of course,
impossible for her to ask, so she contented herself with saying, in slow,
careless tones:

"Really, that is quite interesting. But then, of course, you know, when Russia
takes anything like this in hand she generally does it thoroughly, and, of
course, the ice may be late this year, as they call it, crowded up in the
narrow places I suppose; and in that case, of course, the French expedition
will find it accommodating to have a ship like that to break the way in
advance—and out again if necessary. I suppose you have quite decided to take
the trip across the Atlantic on the Nadine?"

"Oh yes; that is quite arranged. It will be my first visit to America—that
wonderful land."

"America—wonderful? Well, I should say!" said Miss Chrysie, coming behind them
at this instant, and putting her hands on the backs of their chairs, "It's a
pity you can't come too, countess. I guess I could promise you both a pretty
interesting time from Niagara right away to—"

"Suppose we say the Magnetic Pole?" murmured Sophie, turning her head back,
and looking up at her with a glance that was lazy and yet full of challerlge.

"Well, yes, that might be interesting, too," replied Miss Chrysie, looking
steadily down into her eyes. "Those works that the viscount and poppa are
getting fixed up there, whatever they mean them for, must be something pretty
wonderful, for they're spending quite a lot of money on them. It might not be
impossible that we'll be going up to see them some day, and if you'd come
across, countess, I dare say I might be able to show you round."

"Really, that's more than kind of you. Miss Vandel; but I'm sorry to say that
my father's official duties demand his presence at Petersburg, and we
absolutely must leave when the house-party at Orrel Court breaks up; but excuse
me, I see my father beckoning to me. I will leave you my seat. Miss Vandel."

She got up, and walked away forward to where her father was standing near the
verandah. Miss Chrysie took possession of her seat, clasped her hands behind
her head, stretched out her legs till a pair of dainty pointed toes peeped from
under the hem of her dress, and said, with a sidelong glance at Adelaide, and
in a slow drawl:

"Nice girl the countess, marquise, and very good-looking—very; but,
somehow—well, perhaps you haven't noticed it, but I have—she seems to have a
sort of way of talking at you instead of to you, and always meaning just
something a bit different to what she says."

"It is quite possible," said Adelaide, slightly coldly, for Chrysie's words
were just a little too frank to please her taste; "but, you see, she's a
Russian; and the daughter of a diplomat. All Russians of good family are born
diplomatists, and diplomacy, you know—"

"Why yes," laughed Chrysie; "diplomacy is the whole art and science of saying
one thing and meaning another, and getting the other fellow to believe that
you're telling the ironclad truth when you are lying like Ananias; and I guess
the countess hasn't learnt her lessons very badly."

"In other words. Miss Vandel," said Adelaide, with a laugh that had a note of
harshness in it, "you think the Countess Valdemar is, to put it into quite
brutal English, a liar."

"Why no," replied Chrysie, looking straight down at her shapely toes; "just a
diplomatist, or, I should say, the daughter of one. But we don't want to pull
each other to pieces like this. What's the matter with changing the subject?
What's your idea, marquise, about these two Polar expeditions being started off
this year? Doesn't it strike you as just a bit curious that they should be
going north up Davis Straits just when our Storage Works are getting finished?
Shouldn't wonder if the countess gave herself away a bit when she spoke just
now about the Magnetic Pole."

This was a kind of diplomacy that was entirely strange to Adelaide, and for a
moment or two she hardly knew what to say; then she replied, rather languidly:

"Really, Miss Vandel, it is a matter that interests me very little. I believe
this is the proper time for setting out on Polar expeditions, and you know the
Russians are very fond of making these journeys in the interests of science and
exploration."

"Mostly exploration of what's going to be new Russian territory," replied Miss
Chrysie, with a snap of her eyes. "Ah, here's his lordship junior. Well,
viscount, I've got to thank you for yet one more just entirely delightful day!"

Before Hardress could reply she turned another sidelong glance on Adelaide. In
spite of all her self-control, Adelaide's cheeks flushed ever so slightly and
her eyes lighted up as Hardress pulled a chair towards them.

And she hated her frankly and cordially for it; for she was a girl of
absolutely honest feelings, and just as straightforward and thoroughgoing in
her hates as in her loves.

"My dear Miss Vandel," replied Hardress, "it is quite the other way about; it
is I who have to thank you for the pleasure of giving you pleasure."

"After that," laughed the marquise, turning her lovely eyes full on his, "let
it never be said that an Englishman cannot turn a compliment."

Chrysie noticed that Hardress flushed a little and dropped his eyes slightly
under that bewildering glance, and she hated the marquise more intensely than
ever.

"It was no compliment, I can assure you," he said, looking up at Chrysie,
"though what the marquise just said may have been. But, by the way, I came to
tell you a rather serious piece of news, marquise; and something that may
perhaps influence your aunt's plans."

"Ah, what is that?" said Adelaide.

"Well, from the telegram my father has just received, which will probably be
in the papers to-night, there is going to be a tremendous military scandal in
Germany, which may have very grave results indeed, even to the extent of an
European war. The detectives of the military staff at Berlin have discovered a
sort of Teutonic Dreyfus—a young fellow holding the rank of lieutenant, and
employed as a sort of military under-secretary in the bureau of the Minister of
War. To a certain extent it's the old story. He had ruined himself with
gambling and horse-racing, and, not content with that, had got involved with a
very pretty and equally unscrupulous French variety actress, who bled him with
apparently more consistency than she loved him. The agents of the French secret
service in Germany got hold of him and he sold himself

"So far the story is commonplace—that sort of thing happens every week in all
countries—but the extraordinary thing about this is that when this young fellow
was confronted with proofs, he not only made a clean breast of what he had
done, but he told his chiefs that the man who had been mostly instrumental in
getting him into trouble, and had, in fact, introduced him to the woman who
ruined him, was a brother officer—a staff-captain and military attach^ of a
foreign court. This man, he confessed, had obtained, partly through him and
partly through his own knowledge and other sources, a complete sketch of the
German plans, both for invading France and resisting a French invasion,
together with all the necessary details as to men, guns, transports, etc.
Stranger still, a German staff-officer answering exactly to the description,
resigned his commission nearly a year ago, and retired into private life. He
was not a German, but an Alsatian. The German secret agents in Paris took up
the scent, and found that this very man had been in close communication with
the Minister of War and appeared to be holding some confidential position in
the service of the Ministry. Now Germany, it is rumoured, has demanded his
extradition on a charge of treason and desertion; for it seems that his
resignation was never officially accepted, although he was allowed to go in
consequence of some family trouble which brought disgrace upon his name. France
has refused it, and—well, the situation may be described as distinctly
strained."

"Well," said Miss Chrysie to herself, while he was speaking, "if that's not a
pretty good sample of diplomacy, I've got a wrong idea of the word altogether."
She had turned her head lazily on the cushion again, every now and then
glancing at Adelaide's face. Hardress had, of course, done the same repeatedly
during his narrative, which he had told just as though he were telling some
absolutely fresh piece of news to a couple of listeners who would only take an
outside interest in it. Since her father's death Adelaide had given no sign
that he had told her anything on his deathbed, or that she was aware of the
true nature of the Great Storage Scheme. Now she kept her composure admirably
under the double scrutiny. Chrysie fancied that she changed colour ever so
little at the mention of the German staff- officer who had resigned, and of the
visits to the French Minister of War, but otherwise she gave no sign, she just
sat and listened, every now and then drawing the point of her parasol across
the grass at her feet, and occasionally looking out over the water dotted with
a multitude of crafts coming to an anchor after the day's racing. Certainly
neither of them found any reason so far to believe that the story had anything
more than a general interest for her. When she spoke her voice was just as low
and sweetly quiet as ever it was.

"Certainly that is very serious news," she said, looking straight at Hardress.
"We know, of course, that there has been great tension between the two
countries for some time, and if France refuses to give this man up there can
hardly be anything but war; and yet if it is true that France possesses all the
German plans, Germany would be at a terrible disadvantage, for it would be
impossible to change them at the last minute. At any rate, I am very much
obliged to you for your early information, viscount. Certainly I think it would
be better for my aunt to remain in England for the present; and in that case, I
am afraid it will be my duty to remain with her."

"Not at all, my dear marquise," said Hardress, with an eagerness which Chrysie
did not at all appreciate. "You know your aunt was a great yachtswoman some
years ago; she's a splendid sailor, and there's lots of room on board the
Nadine. Let her come to Canada with us. The voyage would do her all the good in
the world. We can land you with Miss Vandel and Olive at Halifax, and you can
have a delightful run through Canada and the States under my father's
protection, while the president and I pay our visit to the Storage Works."

"A thousand thanks, my dear viscount," replied the marquise; "but that, of
course, will be a matter for my aunt alone to decide. For my part, I can only
say that I shall be delighted if she says yes."

"I sha'n't," said Miss Chrysie, with great emphasis, in her soul.

Meanwhile another conversation on the same subject was going on in another
part of the lawn. A messenger—boy had about half-an-hour before brought the
count an envelope containing a lengthy telegram; and it was when he had read
this that he had beckoned to Sophie, and she had scarcely joined him when one
of the servants brought her a note which had been left by a man at the gate of
the grounds. They left the verandah where the count had been standing, and
strolled down towards the water.

"Well, papa," said Sophie, "I saw you had a telegram just now. Any news?"

"News? Yes," said the count; "and very serious, too. Briefly, the German
government has discovered everything about Fargeau—that is to say, his treason
and his connection with Ducros—and has demanded his extradition from the French
government. France, having got the plans, will, of course, refuse, and then
there will be war—probably in a week or two."

"And Russia?" queried Sophie, looking up at him.

"Russia, my dear, as you understand, will act as circumstances direct."

At this moment the note was put into Sophie's hands. She opened it, read it,
dismissed the servant, and said in a low voice:

"Papa, here is even more serious news than yours. This is from my friend the
engineer. He tells me that the viscount has suddenly altered his plans; that
the Nadine is to be filled with coal to her utmost capacity, and all
preparations made for crossing the Atlantic at full speed, instead of about
twelve knots."

"And she can steam twenty knots," said the count. "I'm afraid, my dear Sophie,
that completely upsets your nicely-arranged plan for a rendezvous in mid-ocean.
The Nadine will be across the Atlantic before the Vlodoya can get there, for
her best is only about sixteen."

"No, papa," said Sophie, "I've not failed yet. If my engineer is only
faithful, and that accident to the machinery happens, we shall get them all the
same. I will promise him anything and everything, and he will be faithful. And
then I have another plan."

"Ah! And that?"

"The marquise—she will be on board—she's a Frenchwoman, she loves this
Hardress, and hates this American girl. Sooner or later she knows that it must
be war to the knife between them, and better sooner than later, for they say
that he is already half-betrothed to Miss Vandel. At the same time, Hardress is
by no means indifferent to her own fascinations. I will make her an ally—for
the present, at least. She knows well enough that were the American
conveniently disposed of she could soon console the viscount for his loss. I
will show her how she may be got rid of, and how she, Adelaide de Condé, may
marry the man who may, as she believes, soon be master of the world. A clever
woman with a great end to gain will be of infinite service to us on board the
yacht. At present she is half-hostile to us—for she has a suspicion that our
expedition is meant to forestall the French one. Now I will make her wholly our
friend by showing her how she may not only gain the desire of her heart, but
also ensure the success of the French expedition; for, after all, you must
remember that we are bound to cooperate with them to a certain extent, for they
at least have been clever enough to keep the specification of the works to
themselves, and till we get possession of them we can do nothing without
Fargeau, even if we were masters of the works. Yes; I think, after all,
Adelaide, since she must be either friend or enemy, will be a better friend
than enemy: and friend she shall be before she sails on the Nadine."

CHAPTER XVII

"And so, Ma'm'selle la Comtesse, it comes to this: you would have me reward
hospitality with treachery? You would have me betray my host, my father's
friend, and his son, into the hands of Russia?—for that is what it would come
to. No; I thank you for your kindness and condescension in taking me into your
confidence, but I cannot consent to become your accomplice."

Adelaide de Condé had just been listening, in her own sitting-room at Orrel
Court, to Sophie's cunningly-worded suggestion that she should go on board the
Nadine as her friend and ally, and assist in the capture of the vessel by
certain means which she pointed out, one of which was a liberal use of drugs on
the passengers and crew when the critical moment was drawing near. A few months
before she would have entered with repugnance, but without hesitation, into any
scheme which bade fair to recover what she considered to be an inheritance
which the fates had robbed her off; but since then she had learnt to love
Shafto Hardress as she had never believed she could love any man; and love had
wrought its usual miracle. She hated Chrysie Vandel with the whole-hearted
hatred of her impetuous and masterful Bourbon spirit; she looked upon her as
one of her ancestors would have looked upon an usurper or an invader—something
to be abolished or suppressed, at any price and by any means. Her father, too,
she thoroughly hated—not only through personal antipathy, but as one of those
who possessed something that should have been hers. To Lord Orrel and Lady
Olive she was practically indifferent; and, so far as they were concerned, she
would have entered even willingly into any scheme which promised to take from
them what they had taken from her. For the Franco- Russian alliance she cared
little, yet she would infinitely prefer to see France sharing the control of
the world with Russia than that it should be in the hands of an Anglo- American
business syndicate. Moreover, was there not that promise made to her father
long ago by an exalted personage, that, since Russia wpuld prefer a monarchy to
a republic as a friend and ally, she would not look unfavourably on the
restoration of the House of Bourbon in the person of the prince, should
circumstances—such, for instance, as a victorious war fought with Russia's
aid—make such an event possible. Many a time, indeed, she had even been ready
to curse this unfortunate love which had come into her life to shake her
resolution and spoil her purpose. But for that how easy it would all be,
especially with an ally—brilliant, daring, and unscrupulous—like Sophie
Valdemar; and yet, how could she help to betray the man she loved, even to
destroy her rival and get him for herself? So, after a long pause of thought,
she repeated again, aloud:

"No, no; I couldn't do it. It would be too base."

"My dear Adelaide," replied Sophie, familiarly,

and almost affectionately, "I hope you will forgive

me if I suggest that the attitude you have taken up, dignified and virtuous as
I admit it looks at first sight, is really a trifle absurd."

"Really, countess," replied Adelaide, frigidly, "if you are going to forget
your manners, I think the conversation may as well end. You have sought to
tempt me to an act of treachery, and because I refuse, you begin to forget your
manners. You seem to have forgotten, also, that you have put it into my power
to warn the viscount and his friends of the danger you have prepared for them."

This was, of course, a danger which Sophie had foreseen. It was a grave one;
but she was accustomed to run risks, and she was ready for this one.

"My dear Adelaide," she replied, still with the most perfect good humour,
"please don't get angry with me. We have always been very good friends, and I
think this is the first time you have called me countess for years. Don't take
the trouble to be formal any more, but just be sensible and listen. I am not
tempting you at all. I am simply trying to help you against our common enemy,
and I am asking you to help France and Russia in the great and good work of
wresting the command of the world from these upstart Anglo-Saxons, and reducing
them once for all to their proper place. You are not a friend to the Republic;
neither am I, nor any of us, for the matter of that. But you are a Frenchwoman,
who ought to be Queen of France, and, if all goes well with us, may be."

"What," exclaimed Adelaide, taken off her guard for a moment, "do you mean
that, Sophie? Do you believe that Russia—"

"Would not rather have as an ally a monarchy—the old monarchy of France, ruled
over by your most gracious majesty, than a republic, managed by a plebeian pack
of stockjobbers and shopkeepers? Do you know why your lamented father the
prince was such a welcome guest at the court of Petersburg?"

"Ah, then you know—"

"Yes," replied Sophie, taking the venture; "I do know, and I can assure you
that your majesty, when the day comes, will find no stronger partisan than I
shall be. My father, too, is one of your most devoted adherents, though, of
course, he can say nothing about it now, and, as you know, there are other
personages far more exalted."

"Yes, yes, I know," said Adelaide. "It was almost a promise."

"Help us, and you shall find that it was a promise," half guessing what the
promise was. Then, pushing her advantage, she continued: "And, after all, you
know, my dear Adelaide, is it not a little inconsistent for you to talk of
treason or betrayal. Do you really think that you would now be a guest in Lord
Orrel's house any more than I should if he knew of your connection with a
certain ex-captain of Uhlans, or of that visit you paid with him to General
Ducros? Really, you will forgive me if I say that your suggestion as to warning
the viscount about my little scheme is a trifle illogical, even if you wished
to betray us, which I don't suppose you would seriously dream of How could you
do it without betraying yourself? You would have to accuse me and papa, and,
through us, Russia, of an act of contemplated piracy. We should be compelled,
in self-defence, to prove that you know just as much of the true nature of the
Storage Works as we do, and that you and your ex-captain are the real authors
of the French expedition—in short, that you are every whit as bitter an enemy
of the Trust, and all concerned in it, as we are. I fully admit that you will
spoil our scheme for the time being; but, instead of being a guest of the
Nadine, the guest of the man you love, with the power in your hand of
abolishing the woman who will certainly marry him, if you don't, you would
suffer the indignity of being ordered out of his house as a spy and a
traitress."

The logic was as exact as it was pitiless, and Adelaide de Condé saw that
Sophie Valdemar was, for the time being at least, mistress of the situation.
She had come to Orrel Court as a guest, with the full intention of playing a
double part. She had played it until one day she had chanced to overhear a few
half-tender, half-chaffing words pass between Chrysie Vandel and Hardress. Then
she had awakened to the full certainty of what, in her inmost soul, she had
long suspected—that she loved this man with all the strength of a strong and
imperious nature; and since then she had been living in constant dread that he
should by some means come to know her as she was.

Now the crisis had come. Sophie Valdemar had woven toils round her from which
there was no escape; she must play the double part she had chosen to the end.
It was the only possible chance of gratifying at once her love and her hate,
and of perhaps attaining the object of her ambitions after all. She moved
slowly once or twice across the room, with her hands clasped behind her back.

Sophie waited and watched her with a half-smile on her lips and a gleam of
triumph in her eyes. She knew that she had won, for she could read every
thought that was passing in Adelaide de Condi's soul. Then Adelaide stopped in
the middle of the room and faced her, with her head slightly thrown back, and
said slowly:

"Yes, Sophie; I see, after all, that you are right. I should be no more a
traitor on board the yacht than I have been here, and one should help one's
friends and allies rather than one's enemies. It will, of course, be an
enormous advantage to our cause if this yacht can be seized. No doubt, too,
there will be ciphers on board, which will enable us to communicate with the
works, and if there are, that will be an immense gain to us. It shall be part
of my business to find that out. Yes; I will go, and I will help you as far as
I can; but there is one compact, Sophie, that you must make with me."

"My dear Adelaide," replied Sophie, warmly, and coming forward with both hands
outstretched, "after what you have said I will make any compact you please that
does not injure the cause of Holy Russia. She is the only God, and her service
is the only religion I have, and if I make the compact, I swear to you by Holy
Russia that I will keep it. What is it?"

"Then you must swear to me," said Adelaide, taking her hand, "that, whatever
happens, whether we succeed or fail, no evil shall come to the viscount or his
father and sister, either in person or property. If we get possession of the
works, and the alliance conquers England and America after it has disposed of
Germany, they shall be considered and treated as friends, not enemies; for you
must remember that until I reign as queen in Paris I propose to reign as
mistress at Orrel Court. As for the American woman and her father, and all the
rest of them, the sooner you get them out of the way the better pleased I shall
be."

"My dear Adelaide," replied Sophie, "you looked adorable as you said those
last words. Yes; of course, it shall be so; not a hair of their heads, not a
centime of their property shall be touched. They shall be yours, and, as yours,
sacred against all ills. That I swear and promise you in the name of Holy
Russia."

"Then," replied Adelaide, looking straight into her eyes, now brilliant with
the light of triumph, "I am with you to the end, whether it be good or bad,
success or failure, life or death."

"And for Holy Russia and the old regime of France!" added Sophie, almost
solemnly. "And now, suppose we go and join these good people on the lawn?"

As they went out, arm-in-arm, laughing and chatting as though they hadn't a
care on their minds, no one would have dreamt that these two beautiful women
had been a moment before plotting the ruin, not only of those whose hospitality
they were enjoying, but of their country and people as well ; but as Miss
Chrysie saw them, her pretty brows came together for an instant, she turned
aside, and said to her father in a low tone:

"That Frenchwoman and the Russian girl have been together ever since
breakfast—hatching some mischief, I'll bet. I don't like it, poppa—any more
than I like the Frenchwoman coming across on the yacht. She's coming for no
good, I'm sure; but the viscount's about as blind as a wall- eyed mule where
that woman's concerned. Anyhow, I'll watch her pretty closely ; she can bet all
her titles and ancient lineage on that."

"That's right, Chrysie; and I reckon I sha'n't be sleeping much while she's
around," replied her father.

CHAPTER XVIII

Cowes Week was over, and the house party at Orrel Court had broken up. Madame
de Bourbon had yielded to her niece's earnest persuasions, and consented to
become a guest on the Nadine. Count Valdemar and Sophie had sailed on board the
Vlodoya, en route for the Baltic and Petersburg. The news which Hardress had
told to the marquise and Chrysie on the lawn at Cowes had duly leaked out into
the channels of the Press, and had been condensed and expanded, embroidered and
commented upon with the usual luxuriant facility of the journalistic
imagination.

Meanwhile the Times had published a lengthy and weighty communication from M.
de Blowitz, which, while proving many wrong and some right, pointed
unmistakably to a very grave state of affairs in Western and Central Europe.
The communication also hinted, indirectly but unmistakably, at other
developments which might possibly produce results as astounding as they would
be unexpected.

"De Blowitz has somehow managed to get on to the secret of those two so-
called Polar expeditions," said Hardress to his father at breakfast on the
morning before the Nadine was to sail.

The marquise and Madame de Bourbon were having breakfast in their own room
that morning else he would not have said this. Only Chrysie and her father were
at the table. "He's a wonderful fellow for getting hold of news. That allusion
to events proceeding in a far-distant portion of the globe is distinctly
significant."

"That's so," said Clifford Vandel, "and I reckon that, under the
circumstances, the sooner we respond personally to Doctor Lamson's telegram the
better it will be for all immediately concerned. To tell you the square truth,
Lord Orrel," he went on, looking up from his plate, "I don't quite like the
turn things seem to be taking generally."

"Why, what do you mean, my dear Vandel?" asked his lordship; "you've not heard
anything unpleasant, have you?"

"I've heard something, and I've seen a bit more," he replied. "I don't want to
speak disrespectfully of any of your guests, but I'm bound to say I don't
altogether like the cordiality that's seemed to work up during the last few
days between our Russian friends and the distinguished lady who is going to
honour us by her company across the Atlantic."

"Oh, come now, Mr Vandel," interrupted Hardress, in a tone which Miss Chrysie
did not exactly appreciate, "surely you're not going to accuse the marquise,
the daughter of my father's old friend, of anything like plotting and scheming
with Russia."

"I'm not making any accusations, viscount; I'm just trying to put two and two
together and make four of them. We know that if Doctor Fargeau's discovery had
not fallen into our hands, or, I should say that if it had not been thrown into
our hands by the stupidity of the French government, this young lady's father
would most likely have become king of France instead of dying, of what we will
call mental shock, down at Elsenau; and we haven't yet got on to whether she
knows anything or nothing about the scheme yet."

"Anyhow, she was in Paris at the time when this Fargeau, the son of the man
whose remains we picked up, had his interviews with General Ducros, and these
Russians were there at the same time. I guess that makes about two. Right after
that France and Russia decide to send two Polar expeditions, both by the same
route—the only one on this side that leads to the Storage Works—and both about
timed to get there when we are ready to spring our little scheme on the world.
I reckon that makes two more; and if you put them together you'll get about
four."

"I should say five, poppa," exclaimed Miss Chrysie, putting her fish—knife
down somewhat sharply on her plate. "It strikes me the whole thing's timed to
fix in with this war that they're talking about. France and Russia want to get
hold of the works when the war starts. If they do they'll just run creation and
halve the world between them; and I reckon that makes five. What do you think,
viscount?" she went on, raising her eyes and looking straight at him across the
table.

"I agree entirely with Mr Vandel that we ought to get across the Atlantic as
quickly as we can," he replied, rather more deliberately than she liked. "I
hope, and still believe, that your suspicions are without foundation, but, at
the same time, of course, we can't afford to take any risks in a matter like
this; and as everything is ready, and as it is always wise to do the unexpected
in matters like this, the Nadine shall start to- night instead of to-morrow
morning. That will give us thirteen to iifteen hours' start; and if, as you
seem to think, our friends are the enemy, it may help somewhat to disconcert
their plans. But, under any circumstances, it won't do any harm."

"I think, Shafto, that's a very good idea," said Lord Orrel. "In view of what
is taking place in Europe and of Doctor Lamson's telegram, I really don't think
we ought to lose an hour in getting across the Atlantic as quickly as possible.
Of course, it is impossible for me to entertain suspicions of the character of
people who have been my guests without the most absolute proof, but at any rate
it it is impossible that anything could happen between here and Halifax, where
we shall land Madame de Bourbon and the marquise. There we shall get more
definite news from Lamson, and the telegram will give us good excuse for
leaving them there; but that, of course, will depend upon the nature of the
news that we get there. If there is anything really serious—well, we shall have
to commit them to the care of the universal Cook, who will, of course, provide
a special courier for them, and say good-bye as politely as possible."

At this moment the door opened and Adelaide came in. Lord Orrel had a somewhat
high-pitched voice, and as she was opening the door, in the slow, silent way
which society approves, she distinctly heard his last sentence.

"Ah," he continued, "here is the marquise herself Ma'm'selle, we find that the
yacht is ready, and that there is no objection, unless you and Madame de
Bourbon have any, to starting this afternoon instead of to-morrow morning. Both
Mr Vandel and myself have somewhat urgent affairs on the other side of the
Atlantic."

"My dear Lord Orrel," replied Adelaide, with a radiant smile, "pray say
nothing more; the arrangement will suit my aunt and myself perfectly—and, after
all, we are at your service. It is you who are accommodating us. For my part, I
think it is always pleasant the first night at sea, especially in summer. One
wakes up the next morning to find the sun shining, and the water dancing, and
the strong salt breeze ready to give one a most glorious appetite for
breakfast. What more would you? The packing, as you call it, is ddne. For us it
is only a question of putting our hats on and going on board—and, voila, c'est
fait."

She said this with such a delightful air of insouciance, and with such a
radiant smile, that Miss Chrysie felt that she could have shot her there and
then. Under the circumstances, she just finished her coffee and said:

"Well, Olive, if that's so, I reckon we'd better go and get fixed up too. I
quite agree with the marquise that it's better to start out at night on a
voyage and wake up nice and fresh next morning, especially if you don't eat too
liberal a dinner before you start."

"Oh yes," said Lady Olive; "I can be quite ready by this afternoon if you can,
and if it's anything like the lovely moonlight night it was last night, we
shall have a perfectly delicious run through the Solent and past the Needles."

"And along the coast," added Hardress; "the moonlight will last us a bit
farther than that. We shall be well away to Portland before you want to go to
bed I expect. The Nadine's got to do her best this time, and we've coaled up
for a run across the Atlantic at twenty knots. That will be somewhat of an
experience for you, marquise, will it not?"

"Yes, viscount," she said, with one of those smiles which Miss Chrysie hated
so; "it is a very wonderful speed that, and of course it will be an experience."

"Then that's settled," said Lady Olive, rising, "we shall start this evening.
Now let us go and pack."

The Nadine, spick and span, and clean as a new pin, was lying alongside the
ocean quay at Southampton, her bunkers and half her hold crammed with the
finest steaming coal that money could buy, and the steam whistling softly in
her pipes.

Her second engineer, an exceedingly clever young fellow of twenty-five, whose
good-looking face was marred by a pair of too-closely-set greenish-blue eyes,
was leaning on the rail a little forward of the foremast, smoking a pipe and
gazing down the water with eyes that saw nothing material. Edward Williams was
as good a marine engineer as ever went afloat, but unfortunately he was
possessed by the idea, too common among his class, that he possessed a creative
and inventive genius as well as real cleverness in his profession.

He had invented what he considered to be improvement after improvement in
marine machin^y, and Lord Orrel had at first helped him generously to put them
into practical form; but as he did not possess the genius, he believed he had,
they had one after another failed to stand the test of practice, and at length
both Lord Orrel and his son had closed their pockets and given him to
understand that he had better devote himself to his profession and leave
inventing alone. This produced the usual effect on such a mind as his. He
forgot all that they had done for him, and looked upon them as wealthy men
whose selfishness deliberately barred his way to the fame and fortune which
ought to be his.

Only a month before he had gone to Hardress with the plans of a new type of
submarine boat, which he, of course, firmly believed would revolutionise naval
warfare. It would only have cost a few hundred pounds to build a model and
demonstrate the truth of his theory, but Hardress had kindly but firmly refused
to do it. This refusal had soured him utterly, and put him in exactly the frame
of mind readiest to succumb to the temptation to commit the only crime of his
life.

Sophie had heard something of this in conversations at the Court and on board
the yacht, and she instantly divined that if she was to find an instrument to
work out her scheme she would find it in the disappointed inventor—and she was
right.

Like every man who believes himself to be a genius, and is not, Edward
Williams was intensely vain, and when the beautiful and brilliant countess one
day asked him to show her over the engines ' and explain their working he
naturally felt intensely flattered. Then Sophie had skilfully led the
conversation to his own inventions, sympathised with him very sweetly, and
assured him that in Russia such genius as his would certainly not go
unrecognised. "But these English," she said, "are always the last to accept new
ideas or properly reward their clever men."

After that he had been as wax in her skilful hands. She had even led him to
believe she was not indifferent to him personally. After this she had
infatuated him still further by giving him appointments in secluded parts of
the Court grounds; and so she had gradually led up to the proposal which he had
now definitely accepted.

For reasons of state, it was all-important that the Nadine should never reach
America. Not the slightest harm was to come to anyone on board her: they would
simply be brought back and landed in France, free to get home as they pleased.
All that was wanted was a delay of a couple of days or so. Therefore, if the
engines of the Nadine broke down at a certain spot in the Atlantic, and
remained helpless until the Vlodoya overtook her, he was to receive five
thousand pounds in gold and a lucrative dockyard appointment in Russia, which
would give him every opportunity of working out his inventions.

To such a man, embittered by disappointment and soured by a sense of imaginary
wrongs, such a dazzling temptation was irresistible; and that was why Edward
Williams was leaning over the rail of the Nadine a couple of hours before she
was to start, dreaming dreams of revenge on those who had wronged him, and of
fortune and fame among his country's enemies.

The party from Orrel Court drove down to Southampton immediately after lunch
to enable the ladies to do a little final shopping before going on board.

In the course of the afternoon Chrysie and Lady Olive went into the telegraph
office to send off a few farewell wires to friends. As they entered, Miss
Chrysie's quick eyes at once caught sight of Felice, the marquise's maid,
leaning over one of the compartments. She touched Lady Olive's hand and nodded
towards her, and said:

"I guess I'd like to see that telegram."

And then, in the most unprincipled fashion, she strolled along the
compartments as though she were looking for a form, stopped a moment and looked
over the maid's shoulder. Then she came back and did it again. Meanwhile the
other compartments had been occupied; so she just stood about until Felice had
finished, and then took her place.

As it happened, Felice had been compelled to use one of those adamantine post-
office pencils which you have to almost dig through the paper before you can
get a legible impression; consequently on the next form on the pad there was a
distinct tracing of several words. This Miss Chrysie tore off and appropriated.
Then she wrote her own message and went to the counter with it.

When they got out into the street Lady Olive said, a trifle frigidly:

"My dear Chrysie, don't you think you did a rather improper thing in there? I
distinctly saw you look over Felice's shoulder. You know, here, we consider a
telegram as sacred as a letter."

"Why, certainly!" replied Chrysie, flushing a little at the rebuke: "and so we
do over our side: but still, all's fair in—well—in love and war, and I guess
you won't think me quite so wicked when I tell you who that telegram's
addressed to."

"Really, Chrysie, I don't wish to know, and I don't think you ought to know,"
said Lady Olive, still more stiffly.

"Well," replied Chrysie, defiantly, "I am sorry I riled you, but I do know it;
and honestly, Olive, it's what's you and I and all of us ought to know."

At this Lady Olive's curiosity appealed very strongly to her sense of the
proprieties, and she said more amiably:

"Do you really mean, Chrysie, that there's something serious in it—that, for
instance, it has anything to do with the works?"

"I don't know yet," said Chrysie, "but I've got a pretty good copy of it in my
satchel, thanks to those awful pencils they give you to use in British
telegraph offices. Anyhow, it was addressed to Count Valdemar, Yacht Vlodoya,
Cherbourg; and Cherbourg's not on the way to the Baltic, is it? Let's go and
have an ice and some cakes somewhere, so that I can read what is written."

"That's very strange," said Lady Olive, "and the Count professed to be in such
a hurry to get back to Petersburg. What on earth can he be doing at Cherbourg?"

"I reckon poppa and the viscount would give something to know that, too," said
Chrysie, as they turned into a confectioner's. They ordered ices, and Chrysie
took the telegram form out of her satchel and unfolded it gingerly. Her pretty
brows puckered over it for a few moments, as she slanted it this way and that
to get the light on it. Then she put her elbows on the little marble table, and
said in a low tone:

"It's in French, and it tells the Count that the Nadine starts this evening
instead of to-morrow morning. The last word is ' Ddpechez,' and that's French
for ' Make haste,' isn't it? Now, do you think I was right in doing a very
improper thing—which, of course, it was?"

"I'm afraid you were, Chrysie," said Lady Olive. ldquo;It's certainly very
mysterious. How is the telegram signed?"

"There isn't any signature," replied Chrysie. "Our friend's a bit too cute for
that."

"What on earth do you mean, Chrysie?" said Lady Olive, with a note of alarm in
her voice. "What friend?"

Chrysie looked up and said, with a snap of her eyes: "What other friend than
M'am'selle Felice's mistress—the noble Adelaide de Condé?"

Lady Olive started. To her straightforward English sense of honour it seemed
impossible that a woman so gently bred as Adelaide de Condd could accept her
father's hospitality, and yet send such a message as this to those who might
before long be the enemies of his country.

"Chrysie," she said, "I could not believe that for a moment. It is utterly
incredible that the marquise could be guilty of anything of the sort. I admit
that it is very suspicious that the Vlodoya should be at Cherbourg instead of
on her way to the Baltic, and that Adelaide's maid should send such a message;
but it seems to me much more likely that Felice is in the pay of these
Russians, and that her mistress knows nothing about it."

"Well," said Chrysie, rising, "we shall see. Now I guess we'd better be
getting down on board. I shall give this to the viscount, and he can have a
council of war on it."

"The viscount!" smiled Lady Olive, as they went out into the street. "How very
formal we are, Chrysie. Why don't you call him Shafto ?"

"Because I won't let him call me Chrysie—yet," was the reply.

CHAPTER XIX

When the Nadine left her moorings, at about four o'clock on a lovely June
afternoon, she sauntered easily down to the Needles at about twelve knots. For
reasons of his own her owner had never put her to full speed in crowded waters,
or, in fact, where any other craft was near enough to see what she could do. On
deck the principal actors in the tragedy that was to come were sitting in deck-
chairs or strolling about, chatting in the most friendly fashion possible, just
as though the graceful little vessel was not practically carrying the fate of
the world as she slipped so smooothly and swiftly through the swirling water
that ran along her white sides.

Until nightfall she continued at the same speed; but when dinner was over, and
the lights were up, Hardress lit a cigar and went on to the bridge, and said to
the commander:

"Captain Burgess, I think you can let her go now. Full speed ahead, right away
to Halifax. As I have told you, it is most urgent that we should be there in
between five and six days. Of course, everything depends on the engines, and I
think it would be well to work the engine-room staff in treble shifts, just to
see that nothing goes wrong. Any accident in the engine-room would mean a good
deal to me. So you may tell the stokers and engineers that if everything goes
smoothly, and we get to Halifax by the isth—that's giving you five days and a
bit from now—there will be a hundred pounds extra to be divided among them when
we've coaled up again at Halifax. You understand, I want those engines looked
after as though they were a lady's watch."

"Certainly, my lord," replied the captain. "I hope, sir, you don't think that
anything of that sort is necessary for the working of the Nadine; but, of
course, the engine-room staff will be very glad to accept your lordship's
generosity."

The captain blew his whistle, and the head and shoulders of a quartermaster
appeared on the ladder, looking up to the bridge.

"Quartermaster, who is on duty in the engine-room?"

"Mr Williams, sir," replied the quartermaster, touching his cap.

"Ask him to be good enough to step up here for a moment."

"Ay, ay, sir," and the head and shoulders disappeared.

A few moments later Edward Williams came up on to the bridge. Apart from the
work of his profession he was an intensely nervous man, and his imagination had
instantly construed the sudden and unwonted summons into a suspicion of his
contemplated guilt, and his close-set, greenish-blue eyes shifted anxiously
from the captain to Hardress in a way that at once inspired Hardress with vague
undefined suspicions, which somehow brought him back to one or two interviews
on the subject of Williams's patents—which had ended in a way which would have
prompted a less generous man to have dismissed him on the spot. It was only a
suspicion. Still, in another sense, it was the intuition of a keen and highly-
trained intellect, and somehow, by some process which Hardress himself could
not have explained, Williams's manner as he came on the bridge, and that sudden
shifty glance, inspired him with the thought that this was a man to be watched.

"Mr Williams," said the captain, "his lordship has just informed me that it is
most important we should get to Halifax in the quickest possible time; and, as
you have most of the routine work to do, under Mr M'Niven, and are, perhaps,
more in touch with the men than he is, I wish you to tell the men that from
here to Halifax the engineers and stokers will work in treble shifts. It'll be
a bit harder work, but not for long. And his lordship has kindly promised a
hundred pounds to be divided among the engineer's staff at Halifax. Now, that's
not bad extra pay for five or six days work, and I hope you'll see that it's
earned."

"Very well, sir," replied the engineer, doing his best to keep his voice
steady, and not quite succeeding. "It is, I am sure, most generous of his
lordship, and I am quite certain that the men will do everything in their power
to deserve it."

"And," said Hardress, noting the break in his voice, "you understand, Mr
Williams, I shall expect the officers to do the same. We can take no risks this
trip, and there must be no accidents or breakdowns. Time is too precious; you
understand me, of course. I will see Mr M'Niven later on. That will do, thank
you."

Mr Williams touched the peak of his cap, and disappeared down the ladder,
feeling, in his inmost soul as though his contemplated treachery had already
been discovered. And yet, if he had seen the matter from another point of view,
he might have known that the precautions which Hardress had taken were, under
the circumstances, just what any man carrying such enormous responsibilities as
he did would have taken, for, as he had said, everything depended on the
Nadin^s engines. It was, therefore, the most natural thing in the world that
everything possible should be done to ensure their perfect working. In fact, if
he had not had the burden of a contemplated treachery on his soul, he would
have considered the orders to be not only natural, but necessary.

As he reached the deck, it happened that the marquise was strolling forward
towards the bridge. Williams raised his cap, and by the light of one of the
electric deck-lamps, Hardress saw from the bridge that she looked hard at him
for a moment, and that he replied with an almost imperceptible shake of the
head. His brows came together for a moment, and he shut his teeth. His keen
intellect saw what his half-intoxicated senses would not have seen. Under any
normal circumstances, it was impossible that his guest, Adelaide de Conde,
could have even the remotest relations with his second engineer, and yet there
was no mistaking what he had seen as she passed under the electric light.

"Captain Burgess," he said, suddenly, in a low voice, "I don't quite like the
look of Mr Williams. I have nothing against him, but I know he has a bit of a
grudge against me about those patents of his, and—"

"Surely you don't think, my lord, that he would do anything?"

"No," interrupted Hardress; "I say nothing, except that we're taking no risks
this voyage; but I shall ask Mr M'Niven to have a very sharp watch kept on the
engines."

"May I come up on to the sacred territory?" said a sweet, pleading voice from
half-way up the bridge stairs.

"And may we too?" said the voice of Miss Chrysie just behind.

"By all means, marquise," said Hardress; "and you too, 01i^?e, and Miss
Chrysie, certainly; only I hope you've got your caps pinned on securely,
because we're going to quicken up."

"Ah," said Adelaide, coming up on to the bridge with her head half- enveloped
in a fleecy shawl, "quicken up. Does that mean what you call full speed?"

"Something like it, I reckon," said Miss Chrysie, coming up close behind her,
followed by Lady Olive, both with white yachting caps pinned more or less
securely on to their abundant tresses.

"Yes," said Hardress, with a note in his voice that Adelaide had not heard
before; "it is full speed. Now, hold on to your headgear and you'll see."

As he spoke he put his hand on the handle of the engine telegraph and pulled
it over from half to full speed. They heard a tinkle in the engine-room, and
presently the bridge began to throb and thump under their feet. The sharp prow
of the Nadine had so far been cleaving the water with scarcely a ripple. Now it
seemed to leap forward into it, and raised a long creased swirl to left and
right. A sudden blast of wind struck their faces, hands instinctively went up
to heads, and Lady Olive exclaimed :

"What is that, Shafto? It hasn't suddenly come on to blow, has it?"

"Oh no," he laughed. "We're making it blow. That's only the difference between
about ten or eleven knots and . twenty—and there's a bit of a breeze against
us, about five miles an hour—so that makes it twenty-five miles an hour—in
fact, even thirty—for knots are longer than miles."

"Now isn't that just gorgeous!" said Miss Chrysie, and she opened her mouth
and filled her lungs with the strong salt breath of the sea—"and there goes my
cap," she said, when she got her breath again.

The breeze had got under the peak of her yachting cap, and sent it flying aft.
The pin dislocated the arrangement of her hair, and the next moment she was
standing with the loosened shining coils streaming out behind her, unravelling
into a shower of golden glory. Adelaide, with the instinct of a Frenchwoman,
had drawn her shawl tight round her head. Hardress looked round at the moment,
and, if his heart had ever wavered, in that moment the old allegiance was
confirmed. There was no more comparison between the tall, deep- chested
American girl, with her cheeks glowing, her eyes shining in the sheer joy of
physical life, and her long gold-brown hair streaming away behind her, and the
slight, shrinking figure of the daughter of the Bourbons, cowering behind the
canvas of the bridge and gripping the shawl that covered her head, than there
might have been between a sea-nymph of the old Grecian legends and a fine lady
of to-day caught in an unexpected gust of wind.

Miss Chrysie looked natural and magnificent, breasting the gale and breathing
it in as though she loved it. Adelaide de Condé, the exotic of the drawing-
room, cowered before it, and looked pinched, and shivered. Lady Olive, with one
hand on the top of her cap and the other holding the wrap she had thrown round
her shoulders, gasped for a moment, and said:

"Yes, Chrysie; this is glorious. Twenty knots!—that's about twenty- four miles
an hour, isn't it, a little bit faster than a South-Eastern express train?"

"I hope so," laughed Hardress; "if it wasn't we should be some time in getting
to Halifax, And now, I suppose, you've got some coffee ready for us down in the
saloon?"

"Oh yes, it will be quite ready now," said Lady Olive. "Mr Vandel and papa
have started their chess already; Madame de Bourbon is still making lace with
those wonderful eyes and fingers of hers; and so, if you want to exchange the
storm for the calm, come along."

A little after eleven that night, when the Nadine, thrilling in every plate
and plank, was tearing through the smooth water of the Atlantic at nearly
twenty-one knots an hour, a council of three was being held in the smoking-room
on deck. The doors and windows were closed, and a quartermaster was patrolling
the deck on each side. Below in the saloon, Miss Chrysie, with a dainty little
revolver in the pocket of her yachting skirt, was playing poker for beans with
Madame de Bourbon, Lady Olive, and the marquise. In short, as Miss Chrysie
herself would have expressed it, things were rapidly coming to a head on board
the Nadine.

"It seems to me," said the president, "that, all things considered—thank you,
viscount, I think I will take just one more peg —we have just got to take every
possible precaution. I don't say that I am suspecting or accusing anybody; but,
considering that we've got about the biggest thing on earth right here aboard
this yacht, I don't think we should calculate on taking any risks. Take that
telegram to start with. There can't be any doubt about that; and it doesn't
matter whether the marquise or Ma'm'selle Felice sent it, there it is. Get it
down to plain figures. This boat does twenty knots, and she started fifteen
hours before her time. A telegram goes from Southampton to Cherbourg, as
Chrysie's duplicate showed, clearly telling Count Valdemar, on the Vlodoya at
Cherbourg, where he had no business to be, according to his programme, that we
were sailing in the afternoon instead of the next morning, and it ended by
telling him to make haste. Now, what does haste mean? We steam twenty knots,
and the Vlodoya, we know, steams about sixteen. She started from Cherbourg, and
we started from Southampton. The French and Russian Polar expeditions are
perhaps under weigh now, and, from what we know, I reckon that they have a
fairly good idea of what we're going across the Atlantic for. Now, how's a
sixteen-knot boat going to catch a twenty- knot yacht anywhere between
Southampton and Halifax?"

"And why should Count Valdemar receive that telegram at Cherbourg, as I
suppose he did," said Lord Orrel, "instead of going on to the Baltic, when he
said he was in such a hurry to get to Petersburg?" "That, I think," said
Hardress, "is the most suspicious fact in the whole business. Of course, I
don't like to suspect our late or our present guests, but I must confess that I
feel there's something wrong. What it is I can't exactly say; but still I do
feel that everything is not as it ought to be."

"And that," said the president, "I think I can explain in a few words—not my
own ideas altogether, because Chrysie has given me a good many points. You
know, gentlemen, there are some things that a woman's eyes can see through a
lot farther than a man's can, and Chrysie doesn't always keep her eyes down."

He lit a fresh cigar, took a sip of his whisky and soda, and went on:

"Why should a telegram be sent to the owner of a sixteen-knot boat, informing
him of a change of sailing a twenty-knot boat, when the sixteen- knotter is
supposed to be going up the Baltic, and the twenty-knotter is going across the
Atlantic? It seems ridiculous, doesn't it? It would, even if they were both
going across the Atlantic, as they might be. Now, those are hard facts; and
there's a dead contradiction between them, just as you might say there is
between positive and negative in electricity. Now, where's the spark that's
going to connect them?"

There was silence at the table for a few moments, while the president blew two
or three long whiffs of blue smoke from his lips; and then Hardress,
remembering his thoughts on the bridge, and what he had seen from it, blurted
out, almost involuntarily:

"Something wrong with the engines, I suppose?"

"You've got it in once, viscount," said the president, flicking the ash off
his cigar. "Is there any other way that a sixteen- knotter could overtake a
twenty-knotter? I don't want to say anything against anyone, but, you know,
accidents to engines are easily managed, and we just can't afford to have any
right here."

"I've seen to that already," said Hardress. "I don't think there's any fear of
a mishap, accidental or otherwise."

"But," said the president, lighting another cigar, "if it should happen that
the sixteen-knotter did overhaul the twenty-knotter, wouldn't it be just as
well to get that gun mounted? They may have guns on that Russian boat, and they
probably have; but I don't think they'll have anything that's a circumstance to
our twelve-pounder Vandelite gun."

"Well, in case of accidents," said Lord Orrel, "I think, Shafto, that it
wouldn't be a bad idea to get the gun mounted at once. If, in spite of any
precautions, there is going to be an accident in the engine-room, it might as
well be mounted as soon as possible."

"I quite agree with you, sir," said Hardress. "We will have it out of the
hold, and mount it first thing to-morrow morning."

CHAPTER XX

On the morning of the second day out, when Adelaide came on deck, she was
astonished, and not a little disquieted, to see nearly the whole of the yacht's
crew, under the command of Mr M'Niven, the chief engineer, engaged in mounting
a long, light, slender gun, with a very massive breech, on the flush deck just
forward of the foremast. Happening to look up at the bridge, she also saw that
a light Maxim had been mounted at either end of it

What did it mean? Guns were not mounted on a gentleman's private yacht, as a
rule, unless she was making some dangerous expedition in perilous waters. As
for doing such a thing on the most frequented ocean path in the world, it was
utterly ridiculous, unless there was some very grave reason for it—and what
reason could there be, save one? Had Sophie's scheme been betrayed? Had Felice
told about the telegram, under the temptation of such a bribe as these
millionaires could offer? Had Williams wavered at the last, and confessed? She
knew, of course, that the Vlodoya carried guns, to compel surrender, if
necessary. Was that a reason why these guns were being mounted? —and what would
happen if the Nadine met force with force, and won? Everything would come out;
the whole conspiracy, and her own share in it; and then, what would he think of
her? She had entered into the plot mainly for the purpose of getting rid of
this American rival of hers, so that she might pursue the advantage which she
believed she had already gained, without opposition. The discovery would mean
utter ruin for herself and all her hopes.

While these sinister thoughts were passing swiftly through her brain she heard
a light step behind her, and a gay voice, saying:

"My, that looks good, doesn't it! Seems as if the viscount thought we were
going to have a bit of a scrap before we got across. Yes, that's poppa's own
dynamite gun; the viscount calls it his pocket- pistol. Oh, good-morning,
marquise; you seem to be interested in the operations!"

"Good—morning, Ma'm'selle Chrysie," replied the marquise, sweetly. "How
delightfully fresh you English and American girls always look after you've
tubbed. Yes; I assure you I am very interested; indeed, I am astonished. I was
not aware that it was customary to mount guns on a nobleman's yacht in times of
peace."

"Well, no," laughed Miss Chrysie; "but then, you see, marquise, there is peace
and peace. We are at peace with all the world, nearly, but, the fact is, this
is a pretty important voyage, and, from what poppa tells me, it hasn't got to
be interrupted under any circumstances."

"But surely there can be no fear of that," replied Adelaide, with a laugh
which seemed to Chrysie a trifle artificial and uneasy; "the days of piracy are
past."

"That's no reason why they shouldn't be revived on occasion," said Chrysie,
turning round and looking her straight in the eyes; "in fact, it seems to me,
from one or two hints that poppa let drop, that someone is going to try and
stop us getting across this time, and that's why these guns are here. That's a
pretty-looking weapon, isn't it?"

"Really, Miss Vandel," replied the marquise, rather languidly, "I can assure
you I know nothing about such things; and I take, if possible, even less
interest in them."

"Well, marquise, I can assure you that that's a most interesting weapon. Poppa
invented it. It's loaded with liquid gas instead of gunpowder, and a shell that
holds twelve pounds of an improved sort of dynamite—Vandelite he calls it. Now,
of course, you know that when liquid gas is allowed to become gasey gas, it
makes things mighty cold round it. Well, this freezes the Vandelite so that it
shan't explode in the gun. Then when the projectile hits anything, that
develops heat and sets it off. Simple, isn't it? And yet that's a thing that
inventors have been puzzling about for years. That gun will put twelve pounds
of concentrated earthquake into a ship four miles away, and that would knock
anything but an armour-clad into splinters. So I guess there'll be trouble for
anything that tries to stop us this journey."

"Still, that could hardly be in these times," said the marquise, with
excellently simulated nonchalance. "But, really, your knowledge of gunnery
appears to be wonderful. Miss Vandel. I suppose you take a great interest in
weapons of warfare?"

"Yes, I do," said Chrysie; "you see, we make all the best of them over our
side. For instance," she went on, pulling an exquisitely-finished little Smith
& Wesson five- shooter out of her pocket, "there's a dainty little bit of bric-
à- brac. No, don't touch it, if you're not accustomed to shooters, because it's
loaded. Doesn't look very dangerous, does it? But I can pick all the spots off
a card at twenty paces with it."

"Dear me, how very wonderful! And how very interesting you young ladies of the
New World are. Really, the fact of your carrying a loaded revolver in your
skirt pocket seems to me quite as singular as mounting guns on a gentleman's
yacht. So entirely unnecessary, I should have thought."

All Adelaide's powers of self-control did not suffice to keep a note of
petulance and insincerity out of her voice. Miss Chrysie's quick ears caught it
instantly. She slipped her arm through Adelaide's, and drew her away out of
hearing of the men who were mounting the guns, and said in a low voice, which
thrilled with something very like passion:

"I'm carrying this shooter, marquise, for the same reason that they're putting
those guns up. I don't know what it is, but there's trouble ahead, and we're
outside the law just now, the same as others may be soon; but the man I love is
on board this ship, and if there's any harm waiting for him, and quick and
straight shooting will save him, I'm going to do my little level best."

It was impossible for Adelaide not to recognise the frank, direct challenge of
her words. For the moment a passing impulse impelled her to snatch the weapon
out of Chrysie's hand and shoot her; but another moment's thought showed her
that such an act would have meant worse than ruin to all her hopes. After what
Chrysie had said, she would dearly have loved to have done it. It was the first
distinct avowal of her love for the man for whom she herself had deliberately
engaged to sacrifice the honour of her stainless name, and there was a ring of
deadly earnestness in Chrysie's tone as she handled the deadly toy, which meant
even more than her words did; and so she exclaimed, with an innocent seeming
archness which astonished Chrysie quite as much as her own words had astonished
the marquise:

"Ah, so, Ma'm'selle, then my suspicions were correct. Well, well, accept my
best wishes for the most delightful ending possible for your romance. Nothing
could be better, or what the English call more suitable—yes, in every way. And
as for me, though I do not know what I have done to deserve so great a
confidence—"

"I don't know that I ought to let you thank me for it," said Chrysie, flushing
a little; "I guess I told you more for your good than mine, and I thought it
was only right that you should know just how matters stood, in case any
mistakes were made later on that couldn't be rectified—and I think that's about
all that need be said just here. There is the bell: and there is Lady Olive
come to tell us that tea is ready. Suppose we go below, and change the subject."

Adelaide followed her down the cbmpanion way, her face radiant and smiling,
and her heart hot and bitter with many thoughts which at present she dared not
translate either into words or actions. If only the Vlodoya succeeded in her
mission—if only the plot to which she had lent herself succeeded—ah, then there
would be a difference! If not, well, the sea was deep and clear and cool, and
life would have nothing left in it for her.

A little before midnight another council of war was being held in the smoking-
room, guarded as usual by a quartermaster on either side of the deck, and
Captain Burgess came out of his own cabin under the bridge and went to the
starboard door. The quartermaster stopped and touched his cap.

"Robertson," he said, "tell his lordship that I want to speak to him at once."

"Ay, ay, sir," said the man, knocking at the door. There was a "click- click"
of the key turning in the lock, the door opened, and Hardress looked out.

"Oh, captain," he said, "that you? Any—do you wish to speak to me? Come in."

The captain went in, and the door was at once locked behind him.

"Sit down, captain," said Hardress, pointing to a seat. "What's the matter?
You can speak quite freely. You know that there are some rather funny things
going on; but you, of course, we trust absolutely."

"I hope so, my lord," said the skipper, with a touch of dignity in his tone.
"I am sorry to say that just before seven bells, when we changed watch
unexpectedly, as we are doing in the engine-room, one of the extra men we've
put on watch detected Mr Williams in the act of sanding the driving rod of the
low-pressure cylinder of the port engfne."

"And what would have been the effect of that?" said Hardress, quite coolly, as
though he expected the news.

The words had hardly left his lips before a slight jarring shudder ran along
the port side of the ship, and they felt a distinct swerve as though she had
swung suddenly out of her course.

"The scoundrel, he has gritted the shaft as well!" exclaimed the captain,
jumping to his feet and running to the door. "Pardon, my lord," he cried, as he
opened it. Then he said to the quarter-master:

"Robertson, skip up to the bridge and stop her. Mr M'Niven's there."

Then as the quartermaster vanished in the direction of the bridge he locked
the door, and came back and said:

"My lord, I'm afraid it's worse than I thought. You know what grit means in
the bearings of a screw shaft. It means stopping one engine for twenty-four
hours, unbolting the bearings and the thrust-blocks, and cleaning the grit out."

"And I guess that's just about what was calculated upon by our friends the
enemy," said President Vandel. "A delay like that would just send us waddling
across the water like a duck with a lame foot; and that's how a sixteen-
knotter's expected to overtake a twenty- knotter. What's happening to Mr
Williams just now captain?"

"Under arrest in his room, sir," replied the captain; "he's a good sailor and
a good officer, but I'm afraid he's guilty. I never saw a man look more
miserable than he did when I sent for him to my room. I don't know who's been
working on him, or what the reason of it is at all, but there it is. He didn't
confess, but he might just as well have done, for his face did it for him."

"Then we are to understand, Captain Burgess," said Lord Orrel, "that, at the
best, we shall be delayed at least twenty-four hours. That will make a serious
difference to us, Shafto, under the circumstances."

"And it may be more than that, my lord," said the captain, "because we don't
know yet how much harm's done. Mr M'Niven will, of course, examine the cylinder
and the shafting at once and report to me, and if the worst comes to the worst,
why, we may have to go to Halifax with one engine. If we hadn't twin screws
we'd be disabled altogether. Yes, you see he's stopped the port engine, and
that means we've dropped down to about eight knots."

"Yes, of course," said Hardress, "that's about what it comes to, father. Now,
Captain Burgess, you will kindly keep Mr Williams in his cabin. Let him have no
communication with anyone. You can let Robertson give him his food, and mount
guard over him generally. We can trust him, if we can trust anyone. I don't
want to see him, or accuse him of anything. Just keep him quiet, and isolated.
Tell Mr M'Niven we'll run along as well as we can with the starboard engine,
and put all available hands on to repairing the damage to the other. I'll give
the engine-room staff another hundred pounds among them if they get it fixed up
in twenty-four hours."

"Very well, my lord," said the captain, as he got up and went towards the
door. "We shall, of course, do everything possible; and I hope that the damage
is not so bad as it seems."

"It appears to me," said the president, as the captain closed the door and
Hardress locked it, "that our deductions from those few facts are coming pretty
correct. This job's going to keep us back twenty-four hours at least, if not
thirty-six; and so, granted that the Russian yacht started pretty soon after
that telegram got to Cherbourg, she won't be very far behind us to-morrow
evening, and she'll probably overhaul us about by dawn the next day. Seems to
me the question is now, what we're going to do if she does?"

"I say fight," said Hardress, between his teeth. "We can smash her into scrap-
iron with that gun of yours before she can touch us, if she has guns; and if
they do really mean foul play, as it seems they do, I fancy myself it .would be
better for all of us, women and all, to risk going down with the Nadine than to
fall into the hands of a pack of Russian pirates, for that's about all they
will be, if they try anything of that sort on."

"How would it be, Shafto," said Lord Orrel, "if, granted we could get the
engines repaired, we were to play the lame duck, and turn the tables on them—"

"Thunder! You've just got it. Lord Orrel!" exclaimed the president, bringing
his hand down on the table. "Whether the count and that pretty daughter of his
are on board or not, I reckon they'll be a mightily dangerous crew to deal
with, and I reckon they'll be safer as compulsory guests on board this boat
than if they were free to knock around in their own ship. I feel pretty certain
that they know a lot more about this scheme of ours than they would like to
say; and if that's so, as I think it is, the less they run around loose about
the earth the better for us."

"I quite agree with you, president," said Hardress. ldquo;That's the very
thing to do, if we can do it: if it really is the Vlodoya that's on our track
and she means taking or sinking us; well, we'll play 'possum. We'll have, to
let her fire on us first, I'm afraid; but I daresay she'll miss, for Russians
are about the worst gunners in the world. Then we'll cripple her, take her
distinguished passengers out of her, and make them our compulsory guests. After
that we'll play pirate to pirate—empty her coal bunkers into ours, strip her of
everything we want, and put the crew into the boats with plenty of water and
provisions. They'll be certain to be picked up within a couple of days or so if
they go south towards the steamer tracks. Then we'll smash his excellency's
yacht into scrap-iron, and go straight to Boothia Land without stopping at
Halifax at all."

"But, my dear Shafto," said the earl, "that would be a most flagrant act of
piracy on the high seas, wouldn't it?"

"My dear dad," he replied, "you must remember that once we are in Boothia we
are beyond and above the law, and if we like to indulge in a little piracy we
can do so. The point really is to catch these people and take them there with
us; so tha:t we can be quite certain they're not going to do any more harm."

"That, viscount," said the president, "is right on the spot; and your idea of
taking the coal out of the Vlodoya isn't any too bad. I reckon that's just what
we've got to do. A little surprise party for our Russian friends right here in
mid-ocean, and then straight away to the works. We'll show them some of the
wonders from inside that they wanted to see from outside; and I guess we shall
also be able to show them something pretty interesting if those two expeditions
do happen to discover the Magnetic Pole instead of the North Pole. I reckon
it'll be just about one of the most wonderful discoveries that Frenchmen or
Russians ever did make."

CHAPTER XXI

Another two days had passed, during which the Nadine, instead of swirHng
through the water at twenty knots, had been waddling through it Hke a lame duck
at eight.

Adelaide had professed the utmost wonder and concern at the accident, and Miss
Chrysie, who now knew rather more than she did, watched her with unwinking
steadiness from the time she came on deck in the morning till the time she
retired with her aunt at night. Madame de Bourbon herself was completely in the
dark as to everything that was taking place, and simply looked upon the
breakdown ' of the port engine as one of the ordinary accidents of seafaring.

Adelaide had not slept for an hour continuously since she had seen the guns
being mounted. That had convinced her that Hardress, whose suspicion she
dreaded more than anything else, already suspected something. Williams had kept
faith, and had been detected, thanks to the extraordinary precautions that had
been taken in the engine-room, precautions which, so her instinct told her,
could not possibly have been taken unless some design against the safety of the
yacht had been either discovered or very strongly suspected.

Still, as she told herself when she was lying awake in her berth the night
after the breakdown, to a certain extent, the plot had succeeded. Williams had
done the work he was paid to do, and the Nadine had come down from her
greyhound speed to the limping crawl of a wounded hare. The Vlodoya would
certainly overtake her now—but, then, those guns!

She knew that the Vlodoya was prepared to fight if necessary, and so was the
Nadine, and, now that the question of speed had been disposed of, it would be a
question of guns. But, after all, guns would not be of much use without men to
fire them or officers to direct the operations. Manifestly the time had come
for her to play her part in the great game whose prize was to be, for her the
man she loved, and for her allies the lordship of earth.

The next day just before lunch she was strolling up and down the deck with
Hardress and Lady Olive, talking about all that they were going to do when they
got to Halifax, and she had turned the conversation upon Canadian and American
hotels and the difference between American and European cooking, when she said:

"Ah, Monsieur le Viscomte, that reminds me. Will you allow me to give you and
also your poor men who have been working so hard at the broken engine a little
treat?"

"With the greatest of pleasure, my dear marquise," said Hardress. "And what is
it to be?"

"Oh, it is nothing very much," replied Adelaide, in her lightest and gayest
tone; "it is only that my aunt happened to mention last night that she had
found in her secretaire the authentic recipe of a punch—what do you call it?—a
punch of wines and liqueurs which they used to drink at the suppers at
Versailles and the Trianon in the days of the Grand Monarque. Louis himself
drank it, and so did that other unhappy ancestor and his queen—"

"Who," laughed Lady Olive, "is at present reincarnate on board the Nadine. I
suppose you mean then to make up a punch some night after this recipe; that
would be delightful, if. we only have the proper ingredients on board."

"Oh, they are very simple," replied Adelaide; "it is certain that you will
have them, indeed it seems from the recipe that the excellence of the punch
does not depend so much on the variety of the ingredients as the proportions
and the skill in making it."

"Very well," said Hardress, "as long as we've got the things on board, that is
settled; and both ends of the ship shall drink to- night in the punch a le
Grand Monarque, to the health of his latest and fairest descendant. M'Niven and
his men really have been working like so many niggers at that engine, and
they've done splendidly. In fact. Captain Burgess tells me we shall be ready
for full speed ahead by daybreak to- morrow."

"Ah," said Adelaide in her soul, "then it is all the more necessary that we
should have the punch i le Grand Monarque," and she went on aloud, "Well then.
Monsieur le Viscomte, that is arranged. If you will tell your steward, your
maitre d'h6tel, as we call him on French ships, to provide me with the
ingredients, I will make it this afternoon, and we will take it after dinner,
eh?"

"Yes," said Lady Olive, "and I think, Shafto, under the circumstances, you
might invite Captain Burgess and Mr M'Niven to dine with us."

"Certainly," replied her brother, "that's a capital idea, Olive. We will—in
fact, we'll have Mr Vernon, too: he's worked just as hard as anyone else, and
it can be arranged for the second officer to take charge of the bridge during
dinner. And so, ma'm'selle," he went on, turning to the marquise, "if you will
take the trouble, you may brew us two bowls, one for the cabin and a bigger one
for the other end of the ship, and the steward shall put the whole of the
ship's liquid stores at your disposal."

"Monsieur le Viscomte, I could desire nothing better," she replied, with her
most dazzling smile, and more meanings than one.

The subject of the punch was mentioned during lunch, and during the afternoon
Miss Chrysie got her father up into the bows, and, after a swift look round to
see if anyone was within hearing distance, said:

"Poppa, are you going to take any of that punch to-night?"

"Why, certainly, Chrysie. Why not? What's the matter?"

"It may be matter or no matter," she replied, "but I'm not, and I guess it
would be healthier for you not to. I'm more than ever certain that that
Frenchwoman is in it. Yes; it's all very well looking like that, poppa, but—you
think I hate this woman because she's in love with the viscount. Well, I
suppose I do; and there'll most likely be trouble between us sometime soon; but
I haven't quite lost all my senses because I happen to be in love with a man
that another woman wants to get. Don't you see, we're going to have that punch
just a few hours Jjefore we get the engines right and that other boat is to
catch us?"

"But, great sakes, Chrysie, you don't mean the marquise is going to poison us?"

"It won't be poison," answered Chrysie, very curtly, "because she knows that
he'll drink it. I guess some drug's a good deal more likely—something that'll
make everybody at both ends of the ship pretty sleepy and stupid when the time
for a fight comes around. You see, that's just the natural sequence to the plot
to cripple the engine. Anyhow, that's what I think it is."

"Well, if it's as bad as that," said her father, "why not warn the viscount?"

"That wouldn't do much good," she replied, more curtly than before. "You see,
I'd have to make a definite accusation against her, and I've nothing to go on
except what he'd call mere suspicion and we call logical deduction. I'd give
her a tremendous handle against me, especially with him; and if she had any
suspicion that I suspected her—why, she might call me down pretty badly by not
putting anything in the stuff at all. No, poppa, under the circumstances, we
can't do anything except not drink that punch. I'm going to have a headache to-
night and stop in my berth. You have some of your gastric trouble and drink hot
milk or something of that sort: and if you get a show I think you might, as
matters are coming to a head pretty quickly, just give a hint to Captain
Burgess and Mr M'Niven to drink as little of that punch as they politely can."

"Well, Chrysie," replied her father, "you've been right so far, but I do hope
you're wrong this time. It's a pretty large order, you know, drugging the whole
ship's company."

"Yes; and a Frenchwoman with a lot to win is playing a game for pretty big
dollars. Of course, there may be nothing in it at all, and I may be quite
wrong, but I think this punch of hers has come along at the wrong time, and we
can't take any risks. There's one thing, she'll have to drink some of it
herself, and that old aunt of hers too. Still, she's pretty useless, and
doesn't matter; but if anything does really happen, poppa, you'd better go
straight and shake the viscount up. I'll have the steward make some pretty
strong coffee to-night for me, and I'll keep it hot and you can give it him;
and if the doctor isn't dead, too, with the stuff, get a drop of prussic acid
from him. That'll bring him round."

"It strikes me, Chrysie," said her father, looking down admiringly on her
flushed and animated face, "as though you're getting ready to run this ship in
case of trouble."

"It's just that, poppa," she said, with an impatient little tap of her foot on
the deck; "that is, of course, with you. I don't say it's altogether
disinterested, because it isn't; but I'd do that and a lot more to keep to
windward of that Frenchwoman, and she knows it. You can work your gun and I can
work a Maxim, so if there's only the two of us, we can do something with that
Russian ship. And now I guess we'd better go to the other end and show how
friendly we can be with our enemies."

"Chrysie," said her father, with a very tender note in a voice which could be
as hard as the ring of steel, "I don't want you to be a bit different to what
you are, but if you'd been a man you'd have been a great one."

"I'd sooner be a good woman and get what I want than be the biggest man on
earth," laughed Chrysie. "When a woman gets all she wants she doesn't want to
envy big men anything."

And with that they went aft and subsided into deck-chairs in a sort of
irregular circle, in which Lord Orrel was fast asleep, Madame de Bourbon
rapidly subsiding, and the marquise and Lady Olive making a pretence of reading
with drooping eyelids.

The punch a le Grand Monarque was a great success that evening after dinner.
It was delicious; and every one regretted that the president's attack of
gastritis and Miss Chrysie's headache prevented them from sharing in its
delights.

The marquise brewed a little pot of her aunt's special Russian tea for them,
which the president declined with many apologies, and which Miss Chrysie, after
accepting a cup from the hands of Felice, emptied out of the port-hole as soon
as her ladyship's lady had left the cabin.

Captain Burgess and the chief had taken the president's hint almost as though
they expected it, and the Scotsman had said significantly:

"I'm obliged to you, Mr Vandel, though I hope there's nothing in your
suspicions; still, this is no time for us to be drinking foreign mixed drinks
when I've got to keep my eyes open, looking, as you may say, out of both sides
of my head. A drop of good old Scotch whisky is as good nourishment as a man
can need. What I'm thinking about is the men. We can't forbid them to take it
without either insulting his lordship or telling him all the suspicions, which,
you say, can't be told him."

"No," added the captain; "but I'll see they have a pretty good shaking up at
four o'clock, and the cook shall have plenty of strong coffee ready in case of
accidents."

But for all that, the accident happened, almost, if not quite as well as the
originator of it could have hoped. By eleven o'clock everyone who had drunk
even a single glass of the marquise's punch, including herself and Madame de
Bourbon, were dead asleep. Even the captain and the chief engineer, who had
taken somewhat drastic measures to counteract the possible effects, did not
wake until daybreak, and even then, strong as they were, they were both
mentally and physically incapable for the time being of attending to the work
of the ship. The sailors and engine-room hands, who had indulged rather more
freely, were all sleeping like logs when the watch was called at four in the
morning, and nothing could wake them until Mr Vernon, the chief officer, who
never under any circumstances drank anything stronger than coffee, and who
therefore escaped the general paralysis, with the help of the president and the
two quartermasters, who had been forbidden to touch anything in the way of
liquor during the night, brought them up on deck and turned the hose on them.
This revived the majority of them sufficiently to enable them to drink a
copious allowance of strong coffee, after which they were very ill, and then
much better.

The captain and the chief engineer were then carried to bathrooms and treated
in somewhat the same fashion, after which they were taken back to their rooms
and given a good stiff brandy-and-soda.

"Ay, man!" said the chief engineer, as he began to get back his grip on
things, "whatever was in that stuff it was deadly. No more of your foreign
drinks for me. After that, good Scotch whisky is going to be good enough for
me. It's a mercy she didn't poison the whole ship's crew. Captain, if there's
any of the men anything like fit for duty you might give them a good strong
tot, and let's get to work on that shaft. There's just the bearings and the
thrust-blocks to adjust and oil, and then we'll be ready for full speed ahead
in three hours."

"I'm afraid that would be a bit too late, sir," said Miss Chrysie, who had
been sweeping the eastern horizon with her glasses. ldquo;Look yonder," she
went on; "there's a steamer down yonder steaming for all she's worth, and I
reckon she's a lot more likely to be the Vlodoya than an east-bound liner."

The chief took the glasses she offered him, and had a long look at the cloud
of smoke that was rising from the ship.

"I'm afraid you're right, miss," he said, handing the glasses back. "That's no
liner; she's not half big enough; she's a yacht. Still, her stern chase is a
long one, even if we are like a seal with one flipper, and we may be ready for
her even yet."

"I think we shall be able to dodge him. Miss Vandel," said the captain, who
had just come out of his room, still looking pale and somewhat dazed. "Put
every possible hand on to the shaft, M'Niven. Steam's up, and we can start the
moment you're ready."

"And," added the president, "I'll see to the guns. If that's the Vlodoya
they're not going to overtake us before we are ready."

CHAPTER XXII

While the captain and the chief engineer were mustering such men as were in
any way fit to work the ship, or to help in getting the port engine into
running order, Chrysie and her father paid a visit to the staterooms. Hardress
and Lord Orrel were both sleeping as deeply as ever and breathing heavily. The
president tried to rouse them, without avail. Their pulses were beating
regularly, and, apart from their heavy breathing, there was nothing to show
that they were not in a healthy sleep; but they were absolutely insensible to
any outside influence; and Chrysie found Lady Olive, Adelaide, and Madame de
Bourbon in exactly the same condition. Ma'm'selle Felice was in great distress
about her two mistresses, but Chrysie cut her lamentations very short by saying:

"You look after your ladies, Felice, and don't worry about anything else; your
place is down here, and don't you come on deck, whatever happens. There's a
boat coming up that may be the same one you telegraphed to at Cherbourg from
Southampton. If it is, you see this?" she went on, taking her revolver out of
her pocket. "Yes, that'll do; I don't want any theatricals, but you go to your
cabin and stop there. If you're wanted you'U be sent for."

Ma'm'selle Felice shrank away white and trembling, and Miss Chrysie went back
on deck to get the Maxims ready for action. She met her father under the
bridge, and said:

"I reckon, poppa, they're all pretty dead down there. We'll have to see this
thing through on our own hands."

The chief and his men worked like heroes on the shaft, and a good head of
steam was by some means kept up, but the other yacht crept rapidly up across
the eastern horizon, and by breakfast time it was perfectly plain that she was
the Vlodoya. Moreover, both Miss Chrysie and the captain from the bridge had
been able to make out with their glasses that she was carrying a Maxim-
Nordenfelt gun on her forecastle, and two others which looked like one-pound
quick-firers on either side, a little forward of the bridge. She was flying no
flags, not even the pennant of the Imperial Yacht Squadron, to which she
belonged. The Nadine was flying the Blue Ensign and the pennant of the Royal
Yacht Squadron. When the Vlodoya was within about eight miles, heading directly
for the Nadine, the president sent down to ask Mr M'Niven how long it would be
before the port engine could be used, and the answer came back, "A good hour
yet, but everything is going all right."

Just at this moment the captain was overtaken with another fit of sickness and
dizziness, and had to go down to his room; and Mr Vernon remained in charge of
the bridge with Miss Chrysie, who was walking up and down, with a strange look
of almost masculine sternness on her pretty face, and the gleam of a distinctly
wicked light in her eyes.

For her the minutes of that hour passed with terrible slowness as she watched
the Vlodoya coming up mile after mile, with torrents of smoke pouring out of
her funnels. She was evidently steaming every yard she could make. A quarter,
half, and three-quarters of an hour passed, and still she kept on, looming up
larger and larger astern, and Miss Chrysie looked more and more anxiously at
the long gun on deck and the two Maxims on the bridge.

Again a message went down to the engine-room, and the answer came back
—"Another twenty minutes." Just then a line of signal flags ran up to the
Vlodoyds main truck. The chief officer's glasses instantly went up to his eyes,
but after a long look he shook his head and said to the president:

"That's no regular signal, Mr Vandel; it's evidently a private one, arranged
beforehand, I should say."

"Then we won't answer it," said the president, "and we'll see what he'll do
next. I guess, if he's what we think him, he'll have to declare himself right
away."

They hadn't very long to wait, for about five minutes afterwards a puff of
smoke rose from the Vlodoyds forecastle, and a seven-pound shell came
screair.ing and whistling across the water. It was the first time that Miss
Chrysie had ever been shot at, but she took it without a shiver. The chief
officer begged her to go below at once. But she only shut her teeth tighter,
and said:

"No, thanks, Mr Vernon, I'm going to have a hand in this. I'm the only one on
deck just now that knows how to run a Maxim, and I can shoot as straight with
it as I can with my own little pepper-box; so if you just let Mr Robertson come
and see to the serving of the ammunition, I think we'll be able to give our
Russian friends just about as good as we get."

"Say, poppa," she went on, leaning over the front of the bridge, "I reckon
that shot broke the law of nations, didn't it? How would it be if you raised
his bluff? Go him a few pounds of Vandelite better?"

"There's no hurry about that, Chrysie," said the president, who had got his
gun loaded, and was squinting every now and then along the sights. "I guess he
doesn't want to hit us; we've got too much precious cargo on board. You see,
that was a seven-pound shell, and if it got under our waterline—well, we'd just
go right down. If our friends are on board, they just want to scare us into
surrender, that's all; so I think it would be better for us to wait further
developments, and let Mr M'Niven get his work in on that shaft. I can make
scrap-iron out of the Vlodoya just as soon as ever we want to do it; so don't
worry about that."

At this moment another puff of steamy smoke rose from the deck of the Russian
yacht, and this time a shell came screaming away over the Nadine's masts. Miss
Chrysie shut her teeth a bit harder, and walked towards the Maxim on the port
side, the one which she could at any time have brought to bear on the Vlodoya.
The chief officer meanwhile stood anxiously by the engine-room telegraph. It
was also his first experience of being shot at. He was just as cool as Miss
Chrysie or her father, but he didn't like it. He had the Englishman's natural
longing to be able to shoot back, but he recognised that, trying as it was, the
president's strategy was the best. About ten more minutes passed, during which
the Vlodoya drew up closer and closer, until Chrysie, after a good look through
her glasses, was able to say:

"Why, yes; there's the count and Sophie on the bridge. Poppa, why don't you
let. 'em have just one little hint that we're not quite harmless?"

The last word had scarcely left her lips before another puff of steamy smoke
rose from the fore-quarter of the Russian yacht, and a second or so after, a
bright flash of flame blazed out, about fifty yards on the port side of the
Nadine.

"That's a time shell," said Vernon. "They evidently mean business: I fancy
they could hit us if they liked. Don't you think, Mr Vandel, that we might slow
round and give them one from that gun of yours?"

"No, sir," said the president, looking up from his gun: "not till we've the
legs on her. When Mr M'Niven—"

At this moment the chief came up on to the bridge, black and grimed from head
to foot.

"All right, Mr Vernon, you can go full steam ahead now. We've got every bit of
grit out, and she'll work as easy as ever she did."

"Then," said the president, "I reckon that's about all that we want. Full
steam ahead, if you please, Mr Vernon; you can let her go both engines."

The chief officer pulled the telegraph handle over to full speed. The next
moment two columns of boiling foam » leapt out from under the Nadine's counters
as she sprang forward from eight knots to sixteen, and then to twenty. Almost
at the same instant the Maxim- Nordenfeldt from the Vlodoya forecastle spoke
again, and a seven-pound shell, aimed low this time, came hurtling across the
water, and missed the Nadine's stern by about ten yards.

"I reckon that means business," said the president. "Full speed ahead, if you
please, Mr Vernon, and hard aport."

The Nadine made a splendid swerve through an arc of about a hundred and eighty
degrees, and then began the naval duel, on the issue of which the future course
of human history was to depend.

The Vlodoya fired three more shots in as many minutes, but they went wide, for
she was steaming nearly seventeen knots and the Nadine twenty. Then as the
Nadine swung round so that her bow pointed towards the Vlodoya, the president
signed to the two men who were working the gun, a wheel was whirled round, and
the muzzle swung slowly until he put his hand up and said:

"Stop her, if you please, Mr Vernon, and screw her round as hard as you can."

The engine telegraph rang, a sharp shudder ran through the fabric of the
Nadine, the water which had been swirling astern mounted up ahead as her
engines backed, and her bow came up, till the president raised his hand again
to stop her. At the same moment another shell from the Vlodoya whistled over
the deck at an elevation of only a few feet. In fact, it passed so near to Miss
Chrysie that she involuntarily put her hand up to keep her hat on her head.
Clifford Vandel saw it. He didn't say anything, but he set his teeth, squinted
along the sights of his gun, and touched a button in the breech. Five seconds
later a mountain of boiling foam rose up under the stern of the Vlodoya. She
stopped like a stricken animal, and lay motionless on the water, lurching
slowly down by the stern.

"Well hit, poppa!" cried Miss Chrysie, from the bridge. "I guess that's got
him on a tender spot. The count won't have much screws to work with after that.
Oh, they're going to shoot again. Suppose you gave them one forward this time."

While she was speaking, the quick-firer had already been reloaded, the
president moved the long barrel a couple of degrees, and touched the button
again. The sharp hiss of the released air was followed by an intensely
brilliant flash of light on the forecastle of the Vlodoya, and when the smoke
had cleared away the Maxim-Nordenfeldt had vanished.

"I guess there's not much wrong with that automatic sighting arrangement of
mine," said the president; "hits every time."

"Couldn't be better, poppa! I reckon they're pretty tired by this. Suppose Mr
Vernon gives her full speed again, and we go along and have a talk with
Ma'm'selle Sophie and the count. Shouldn't wonder if they knew by now that
we've raised their bluff, and are ready to see them for all they've got."

The president recharged his gun, and then, leaning his back up against the
bridge, said:

"Well, yes, Chrysie, I think we can see them now, if Mr Vernon will give us
full speed ahead for a few minutes."

The chief officer nodded, and pulled the handle of the telegraph over. The
answering tinkle came back from the engine-room, in which the chief had retired
after he had given his message, and the Nadine again sprang forward towards the
crippled vessel that was now her prey. She described another magnificent curve,
and as she rushed up alongside the Russian yacht at a distance of about two
hundred yards. Miss Chrysie sat herself down on a camp- stool behind the Maxim,
and sent half-a-dozen shots rattling through the rigging of the Vlodoya. Then,
as the Nadine swung in closer, she depressed the barrel of the gun on to the
bridge, on which she could now recognise the count and his daughter, and sang
out, in a clear soprano:

"Hands up, please, or I'll shoot. My dear Countess Sophie, I never expected
this of you."

Countess Sophie looked at her father, and bit a Russian curse in two between
her tightly-clenched teeth, and said to her father who was standing beside her
on the bridge:

"She has failed—she and the engineer too—and these accursed Americans have
done it, I suppose. They have broken our propellers and disabled our gun. What
are we to do? It is exasperating, just when we thought that everything was
going so well. What has happened to Adelaide?—has she turned traitor too?
Surely that would be impossible."

"Impossible or not, my dear Sophie," replied the count, "there is now no
choice between sinking and surrender. You see, that gun, one of these
diabolical American inventions, I have no doubt, would sink us like a shot, and
then—"

"And then we shall have to surrender, I suppose," said Sophie. "But it is
still possible that I shall have a chance to shoot that American girl before
this little international comedy is played out, and if I do—"

"Hands up, please, everyone on board, or I will shoot this time," came in
clear tones across about fifty yards of water. Sophie looked round and saw Miss
Chrysie looking along the sights of the Maxim, with her hand on the spring. Her
face was hard set, and her eyes were burning. There was no mistaking her
intention. In another moment a storm of bullets would be raining along the
decks of the Vlodoya.

"We are beaten, papa, for the present," she said, as she got up from her
chair, and put her hands over her head. The count looked at the grinning muzzle
of the "Maxim and did the same.

"Yes," he said, "we are beaten this time, and it is hardly good policy to be
sunk in the middle of the Atlantic. Later on, perhaps, we may retrieve
something; but it is strange how these Anglo-Saxons, stupid and all as they are
to begin with, always seem to get the best of us at the end. Yes; we must
surrender or sink, and, personally, I have no taste for the bottom of the
Atlantic at present.

CHAPTER XXIII

The Nadine ranged alongside, Miss Chrysie still sitting at her Maxim, with
Robertson beside her ready to see to the ammunition feed, and the president,
leaning over the forward rail, said, as laconically as though he had been
putting the most ordinary business proposition:

"Good-morning, excellency; I guess you and the countess had better come on
board as soon as possible. If you'll lower the gangway I'll send a boat; but if
there's any more shooting I shall sink you. I don't want to do anything
unpleasant, you understand; but that high-toned friend of yours the marquise
has half-poisoned most of us, and so the rest have to take charge. Are you
badly hurt?"

Count Valdemar held a hurried consultation with the captain of the Vlodoya,
and replied, as politely as he could:

"The fortune of war is with you, Mr Vandel, and there is no need for any
further concealment. We are crippled, but the watertight compartments have been
closed and we shall float. Meanwhile, we are helpless and entirely at your
service. What do you wish us to do?"

In the meantime the Nadine's boat had been lowered, and was pulling round her
stern to the gangway of the Vlodoya, which had been lowered, and the president
replied: "We'll have to ask your excellency and the countess to be our guests
for a bit; so if you'll just come right on board and tell your people to get
your baggage fixed up, we'll be able to save you a certain amount of
unpleasantness. You will be a lot more comfortable on board here than you will
there, because we're going to take what coal you've got and then sink you."

As the president said this the captain of the Russian yacht nodded towards a
man standing by one of the one-pounders on the fore deck. He pulled the
lanyard, there was a sharp bang, and a shell bored its way through the plates
of the Nadine amidships, just missing the engines. The next moment Miss
Chrysie's Maxim began to thud, spitting flame and smoke and lead, sweeping the
decks of the Vlodoya from stem to stern. Only those on the bridge were spared.
For a full three minutes the deadly hail continued, and there was not a man on
deck who was not killed or maimed. The president had jumped back to the breech
of his gun, the muzzle swung round till it bore directly on the part of the
Vlodoya which contained her boilers. He held up his hand and Chrysie stopped
the Maxim. Then she swung it on to the bridge, glanced along the sights and
touched the spring. There was a crack and a puff of smoke and flame, and the
captain of the Vlodoya, who was standing about a couple of feet away from Count
Valdemar and Sophie, reeled half round and dropped with a bullet through his
heart.

"I guess your excellency and the countess had better come on board' right
away," said the president, still looking along the sights of his gun. "That's a
pretty unhealthy place you're in, and my daughter's only got the patience of an
ordinary woman, you know."

Sophie looked across at the Nadine's bridge, and saw Chrysie's white face and
burning eyes looking over the barrel of the Maxim. Her thumb was on the spring
and there was death in her eyes. She took her father by the arm, and said:

"Come, papa, it's no use. That she-devil will shoot us like dogs if we don't
go. Come."

And so they went down to the deck, strewn with corpses and splashed with
blood, to the gangway ladder, at the bottom of which the Nadine's boat was
waiting.

Miss Chrysie at once left the gun with which she had done such terrible
execution, and went with the chief officer to receive them. To the utter
astonishment of both the count and Sophie, she held out her hand as cordially
as though the meeting had taken place on the terrace of Orrel Court, and said
with a somewhat exaggerated drawl:

"Well, countess, and your excellency, I am real glad to see you. We sort of
thought we should meet you somewhere about here, and I am sure his lordship and
the viscount and Lady Olive, when they get better, will do all they can to make
you comfortable. Now, here's the stewardess. As she didn't have any of the
marquise's punch last night, she's ready to show you to your room. Mr Vernon,
perhaps you'll be kind enough to attend to his excellency. Good-bye for the
present: I guess we shall meet at lunch."

"Really, after the unpleasantness that has happened," said the count, "your
kindness, and your hospitality are quite overwhelming."

"And," added Sophie, as the two prisoners of war passed into the charge of
their respective custodians, "I must say that to me it is as mysterious as it
is charming. If the conditions had been reversed, I should certainly have shot
you."

"It wouldn't have been quite fair," replied Miss Chrysie, sweetly. "You see I
had a gun, and you hadn't."

She watched them disappear down the companion way to the saloon, then she put
her hands up to her eyes, groped her way half-blindly to a long wicker chair,
dropped into it and incontinently fainted.

Just then the chief, washed, shaved, new-clad and thoroughly contented with
the really splendid piece of work that had been done on one of his beloved
engines, came on deck, looking as though nothing very particular had happened.
He saw instantly what was the matter.

"The lassie has a wonderful nerve," he said to himself "Ay, what a man she'd
have made! But she's only a lassie after all, and we'd better get her below.
I'll just take her down to Mrs Evans without troubling the president. He's got
plenty to think about. Yes; Vernon's on the bridge, and he'll see to things."

Then he picked her up in his arms and carried her down to her own cabin and
laid her in her berth, and gave her into the charge of the stewardess. Then he
went up to the captain's room, and found him just recovering consciousness.

"What's the matter, M'Niven?" he said. "That infernal punch last night seems
to have poisoned me. I seem to have been having nightmare after nightmare, with
guns firing and—"

"That's all right, captain," replied the Scotsman; "if you'd taken less of
that infernal punch and more honest whisky, as I did, you wouldn't have such an
awful head on you as I suppose you have. Still, there's nothing much to trouble
about. We've got the engine to rights again; we've met the Russian yacht, and
fought her, and beaten her. Mr Vandel smashed her up with his gun, and Miss
Vandel—a wonderful girl that, sir, a wonderful girl—she sat at her Maxim as if
it had been a sewing-machine, and seemed to think no more of shots than
stitches, and then, woman-like, she fainted, and I've just taken her below and
handed her over to Mrs Evans.

"And now, captain, don't you think that a wee peg would do you good? Mr
Vernon's on the bridge, the president's holding up the Russians with his gun,
and the engines are working all right, but half the crew and all the company
are still something like dead, with that Frenchwoman's drugs, whatever they
were."

Captain Burgess took the chief engineer's hint, and a stiff brandy and soda.
Then he dressed and went on deck, and had a brief conversation with the
president, after which he took charge of the operations of clearing all the
coal and stores out of the Vlodoya before she was sent to the bottom.

The president and Miss Chrysie had to entertain their involuntary guests at
lunch, for although the rest of the Nadine's company were recovering
consciousness, they were still under the doctor's care and unable to leave
their berths; but at dinner that evening Lady Olive, the earl, and Hardress
were able to welcome them, and they did so with a sardonic cordiality which
compelled both his excellency and Sophie to admit that these Anglo- Saxons
were, after all, not such bad diplomatists as Europeans were wont to think.
Madame de Bourbon was still prostrate, and the marquise had the best of reasons
for remaining in her own cabin.

It was perhaps as strange a dinner party as ever sat down afloat or ashore,
and it was rendered doubly strange by the fact that the last time they had all
sat together most of them suspected, and some of them knew, that this very
conflict, which had ended in spite of all disadvantages so completely in favour
of the Nadine and her company, was certain to take place, yet very few
references were made to the state of active hostilities which had now been
practically proclaimed.

Count Valdemar and Sophie were treated on board the Nadine exactly as they had
been at Orrel Court. Lord Orrel and Lady Olive were just as they had been at
Cowes, and in the Solent. Hardress, who had taken a somewhat perilously large
dose of the fair Adelaide's punch, looked pale and seemed rather sleepy, until
he had had two or three glasses of champagne, and then he seemed to brighten
up, and began discussing international politics with a frankness and an
intimate knowledge which simply astounded their involuntary guests. So far as
the party was concerned, there was now no further need for anything like
concealment, and not only were the Storage Works discussed, in their full
nature and purpose, but even the advent of the French and Russian expeditions
at Boothia Land was anticipated with what the Count afterwards described to
Sophie as brutally disgusting frankness.

Miss Chrysie, eating her strawberries at dessert as daintily as though her
hands had never been within a mile of a Maxim gun, chatted and chaffed just as
she had been wont to do at Orrel Court, and the president talked gunnery and
machinery with the captain and Mr M'Niven, who had been invited to join the
party; and finally, when even the marquise came into dessert on Lady Olive's
pressing invitation, all that she heard about her deliberate attempt to drug
the whole ship's company was from Lord Orrel, who rose as she entered, and said
in just such a tone as he might have used in the drawing- room at Orrel Court:

"My dear marquise, I am delighted to see that you have recovered from the same
mysterious indisposition that has affected all of us. I am really afraid that
there must have been something wrong with the recipe for the punch d le Grand
Monarque, or perhaps it was not intended for general use. Hovvever, as we are
all happily recovered, we need not trouble ourselves any further about that."

Adelaide entered instantly into the spirit of the comedy that was being
played, and she replied:

"Ah, my lord, it is so kind of you not to blame me! Believe me, I am
desolated, and have been very nearly killed, and my poor aunt believes too that
she is going to die. It is my last performance at punch-making, for I have torn
the horrible recipe up and thrown it into the sea."

"I am rather sorry to hear that, marquise," said Hardress, looking at her with
a cold, steady stare, which at once enraged and infinitely saddened her; for it
proved that the empire, which until a few hours ago she had hoped to gain over
him, and through him the world, was now only a dream never to be realised.
Still, she kept herself under command marvellously, and greeted the count and
Sophie just as though the Nadine had been lying off Cowes instead of being
lashed to the Vlodoya in mid-Atlantic, with the steam winches rattling and
roaring over their heads, emptying the Russian yacht's bunkers into the Nadin^s
as fast as her own crew and what was left of her enemy's could do it. In short,
a most unexpectedly pleasant evening was spent by everybody.

Coffee and cigars and cigarettes were taken up into the smoking-room, which
was well to windward of the coal dust. Adelaide went to the piano and played
brilliantly. Then she accompanied Sophie in quaint and tenderly-touching
Russian folk-songs. Then Miss Chrysie sang coon songs and accompanied herself;
and Hardress, on her suggestion, made with a wicked humour in her dancing eyes,
recite Kipling's "Rhyme of the Three Sealers" to her own piano accompaniment.
They both did it very well, and more than one person in the cosy little smoking-
room could have killed them for it.

Nothing occurred to give the count and Sophie or Adelaide and the innocent
Madame de Bourbon any idea that they were really prisoners until they retired
for the night. Then the chief steward knocked at the count's door and asked if
he wanted anything more. Mrs Evans did the same for Sophie and the marquise,
and then the doors of the staterooms were locked. They were unlocked again at
seven the next morning, and, after baths and early coffee, Hardress invited his
guests on to the bridge to watch the end of the Vlodoya.

During the night she had been completely stripped of everything that could be
useful to her captor. Every pound of coal was taken out of her bunkers. The two
little quick-firers had been transferred with all their ammunition to the
Nadine. Her four boats, amply provisioned and watered, were comfortably filled
with such of her officers and crew as Chrysie's Maxim volley had left alive.
There was a southward breeze, and in forty-eight hours at the outside they were
certain to be picked up, either by a liner or a cargo boat, and plenty of money
had been given them to pay their passages either to Europe or America. When
they had hoisted their sails and began to bear away towards the steamer-track,
the Nadine cast off from the Vlodoya, her screws began to revolve, and the
president got his gun loaded.

"I reckon we might have a little gun practice, and see how far this pea-
shooter really will carry," he said, looking up at the bridge, with a smile in
which neither Sophie nor her father found very much humour. "Will you make it
five miles, captain?"

The captain rang for full speed.

The Nadine sprang forward with a readiness which showed how utterly futile the
plot to cripple her had been, and in a few minutes the motionless hull of the
Vlodoya was a white speck on the water. Then she stopped and swung round. The
president adjusted his automatic sights, waited till she rose on the swell, and
let go. There was a hiss and a whizz, and then, where the speck was a bright
flash blazed out. Two more shells followed in quick succession, and as the last
flash blazed out. Count Valdemar took his glasses down from his eyes and looked
at Hardress, and said, with a touch of bitterness in his tone:

"She has gone! That is a wonderful gun, viscount."

"Yes," replied Hardress, dryly. "That is a twelve- pounder. We have some
hundred-pounders at the works, as well as a new weapon which may interest your
excellency very much. It destroys without striking. If the French and Russian
North Polar Expedition should chance to pay us a visit, you may perhaps see
them both in action."

"And now, president," he went on, "I suppose we may as well shape our course
for Boothia Land."

"There is nothing more to wait for that I know of, viscount," he replied. And
so the Nadine's head was swung round to the north-west, her engines were put to
their full power, and so she began her voyage to that desolate spot of earth
which was soon to become the seat of the world-empire.

CHAPTER XXIV

Within ten days of the sinking of the Vlodoya Europe was electrified by the
news, published far and wide through the English and Continental press, of what
amounted to a pitched battle between two armed private yachts in mid- Atlantic.
As may well be imagined, the strange narrative of the officers and sailors of
the Vlodoya lost nothing either in the telling to the interviewers or in the
reproduction in the newspapers.

The boats' crews had been picked up, about thirty-six hours after the sinking
of the Russian yacht, by a French liner, which took them to le Havre. The
officers had taken the greatest precautions to prevent the men from speaking
too freely, but it was no use. There were two journalists, one an Englishman
and the other an American, on board the boat, and they agreed to divide the
sensation between themselves and their two countries. Both were in the service
of wealthy journals, and they bribed as freely as they did unscrupulously, with
the result that, in addition to the general gossip of the ship, which was more
or less accurate, they each possessed a fairly comprehensive narrative of what
had happened on the high seas between the Nadine and the Vlodoya, both of which
were speeding over the wires to America and Canada within half-an-hour of the
liner's arrival at le Havre.

But the Englishman did even better than this, for he practically kidnapped the
third engineer of the Vlodoya, who could speak very good French, chartered a
special steamer to Southampton, pumped him absolutely dry on the passage, and
turned up at midnight at the office of his paper with a column and a half of
vividly-written description of the most sensational event that had taken place
on the high seas since the affair of the Trent during the American war.

The presses were stopped, the matter was set up with lightning speed, and by
the next morning that journalist had achieved the biggest scoop of the
twentieth century. The news agencies immediately wired extracts all over the
Continent, and meanwhile the news had been leaking out through oth'^r sources
in France, for passengers will talk, and the" captain was bound to make his
formal report as to the picking up of the castaways; wherefore, within twenty-
four hours the whole Continental press was teeming with interviews, more or
less authentic, leading articles, and notes on the subject of this astounding
occurrence. Two Russian newspapers published a few meagre details, and were
promptly suppressed.

The Globe, in a leader on what it termed the "astonishing intelligence
published by a morning contemporary," put the matter very concisely, and with
its usual clearness and insight into foreign affairs.

"We have here," said the writer, "not only one of the most astonishing, but
one of the most significant incidents of modern times—an incident which, almost
incredible as it is, is nevertheless the more significant when taken in
conjunction with other contemporary events, of which our readers have been kept
constantly informed. It is not customary for either Russian or English private
yachts to carry guns, and it is somewhat unusual for a Russian yacht, owned by
a well-known Russian ex-Minister of State, to start, as we know the Vlodoya
did, from Southampton on a cruise to the Baltic, stop at Cherbourg, and then
turn up in the middle of the Atlantic. But what is the world to think when this
yacht, the property of a nobleman high in favour at the Court of St Petersburg,
deliberately opens fire on a yacht owned by an English nobleman, whose guest
the owner of the Vlodoya had been but a few days before? Perhaps even more
amazing is the fact that the English yacht replied in kind; crippled her
opponent, took the owner and his daughter prisoners, set the crew adrift, sank
her adversary, and vanished. Viscount Branston's yacht was, we understand,
bound for Halifax, with two distinguished French ladies on board. A cable just
to hand informs us that nothing has been heard of her, although she should have
arrived there nearly a week ago. With some reluctance we feel compelled to ask
whether there is any connection between this extraordinary occurrence and the
mysterious electrical works which, as is well known, are being constructed, at
enormous expense, by a syndicate of which both Viscount Branston and his
father, the Earl of Orrel, are prominent members. There have been many strange
and wild rumours current about this enterprise within the last few months, and
we confess that this almost incredible incident appears to lend some
countenance to them.

"In the same connection, it is necessary to call attention to the fact that,
just as this enterprise was approaching completion, France and Russia both
equipped a so-called scientific expedition for the purpose of once more
attempting to force a passage to the North Pole. We do not profess to have any
inside knowledge as to these mysterious proceedings, but we confess that we
should not be greatly surprised if it would not be more correct to read '
magnetic pole ' for ' north pole.' It is impossible to see anything other than
an international significance. Noblemen of different nationalities do not
nowadays go out on to the high seas to fight naval duels to arrange their
private differences; wherefore it appears that either the Vlodoya was a common
pirate outside the law of nations, and yet owned by a Russian ex-Minister, who
was on board when the act of piracy was committed, or she was a privateer
acting under the licence of the Russian Government. We, in common with the
whole civilised world, shall await with the utmost anxiety the immediate
development of this wholly unparalleled state of affairs."

The world waited for about a week, and heard nothing. The British Foreign
Oflfice made its usual timid and tentative representation, and received the
usual snub, to the effect that the Russian Government was investigating the
matter as fully as possible, but had so far only arrived at the fact that the
English yacht fired first.

But the plots and counterplots and the steady preparations which had been
going on for the working out or the defeating of the great scheme were now
about to bear fruit, and the world was not to be lacking in sensations such as
it had never experienced before.

No sooner did the German Government learn the story of the duel between the
Nadine and the Vlodoya than its secret agents began to put two and two
together, and make their representations accordingly. Ex-Captain Victor Fargeau
was known to have been an intimate friend of Adelaide de Condé, who was a guest
on board the Nadine, and, further, to have been in close communication with
Count Valdemar, the owner of the Vlodoya. He had left his country, taken up his
residence in Paris, and had been proved to be in close touch with General
Ducros. All this was significant enough, but when the cleverest of all the
German agents in Paris found out that ex-Captain Victor Fargeau, late of the
German Army, had been appointed to the" scientific command of the French Polar
Expedition, darkness became light, and a peremptory demand was sent from Berlin
to Paris for his immediate extradition on the previous charge of high treason.

To this Paris returned a polite but uncompromising refusal, and Berlin
promptly said that if the expedition sailed with ex-Captain Fargeau on board, a
German squadron would stop it and take him off. To this France replied by
mobilising the Northern Squadron and ordering the Admiral in command to escort
the expedition to sea and protect it against assault at all hazards. Paris also
sent Berlin a curt Note intimating that if the threat were carried out it would
be taken as a declaration of war.

Another Note arrived at Berlin about the same time from Petersburg, informing
the German Kaiser that these French and Russian Polar Expeditions formed a
joint enterprise on the part of the two countries, and that any act hostile to
the one would be considered hostile to the other. The Note also plainly hinted
that, considering the tremendous nature of the issues involved by a breach of
the international peace, such a trivial matter as the extradition of a person
accused of treason could not possibly under the circumstances aiiford a valid
reason for what would be to all intents and purposes an act of war.

Within twenty-four hours a powerful French squadron was manoeuvring off the
mouth of the Kiel Canal, just out of range of the forts; the French Polar
Expedition, with Victor Fargeau on board, was making its way at full speed down
the English Channel; the Russian expedition, headed by the Ivan the Terrible,
passed the North Cape on its way to the coast of Greenland; and four millions
of Russians and Frenchmen of all arms were massed on the eastern and western
frontier of Germany. At the same moment Kaiser Wilhelm called upon his brother
sovereigns of Austria and Italy, and the Triple Alliance stood to arms by land
and sea. In a word, the European powder-magazine was lying wide open, and the
firing of a single shot would have turned it into a volcano.

Still the weeks dragged on, till the tension became almost unendurable.
According to an old North of England saying, "One was afraid and t'other
daren't start," the risks were so colossal.

Great Britain meanwhile kept her own counsel, and went on sweeping up the
remnant of the rebel Boers in South Africa. The only precaution she had taken
was to place every effective ship in the Navy in commission.

It was at this juncture that Europe experienced a new sehsation. In one
memorable week English, American, French, German, Austrian, and Italian liners
from American ports brought packages of the strangest proclamation that ever
was issued, and in the mail-bags of the same boats there were similar
communications addressed to all the Chancelleries of Europe, and these were of
a character to shake the official mind to its very foundations, as in fact they
ultimately did.

The communications, both public and private, took the form of a modest
circular dated from the offices of the International Electrical Power and
Storage Trust, Buffalo, N.Y. Those which were addressed to the crowned heads of
Europe were accompanied by autograph letters respectfully requesting the
personal attention of the monarch to the contents of the circular. The circular
ran as follows:—

The Secretary of the International Electrical Power and Storage Trust is
directed by his Board of Managers to inform the ruling sovereigns and peoples
of Europe of the following facts, and to request their most serious attention
to the same:—A. The Directors of the Trust view with great concern the
formidable military and naval preparations which have lately been made by the
Powers of Europe. In their opinion, these preparations point to a near outbreak
of hostilities on such an immense scale that not only must a vast expenditure
of blood and money be inevitable, but the commerce of the world will be most
injuriously affected.

B. This Trust is a business concern. Its Directors

have no international sympathies whatever, and they don't want war. At the
same time, if the Powers of Europe are determined to fight, the Trust will
permit them to do so on payment of a capitation fee of the equivalent in the
money of each respective country of one dollar per head of effective fighting
men in the field per week—fees to be paid into the Bank of England within seven
days after the commencement of hostilities. A liberal allowance will be made
for killed and wounded if official returns are promptly sent to the London
office of the Trust, 561^ Old Broad Street, London, E.C.

C. Prompt attention to the foregoing paragraphs

is earnestly requested for the following reasons:—(i) The Trust has acquired
control of the electrical forces of the Northern Hemisphere, and is, therefore,
in a position to make all the operations of civilised life, including warfare,
possible or impossible, as its commercial arrangements may demand. (2) One week
from the date above will be given for the Powers of Europe to settle their
differences without fighting or to accede to the terms offered by the Trust.
Failing this, the Northern Hemisphere, with certain exceptions, will be
deprived of its electrical force. The consequences of this will be that cables
and telegraphs will cease to work and all machinery constructed of iron or
steel will break down if operated. Railroads will become useless, and bridges
of metallic construction will collapse as soon as any considerable weight is
placed upon them. D. Finally, I am directed to state that, in addition to these
results, it is unhappily probable that the withdrawal of electrical force will
very seriously affect the health of the populations of the Northern Hemisphere.
Death-rates will very largely increase, and it is probable that a new disease
unknown to medical science will make its appearance. It is expected to be fatal
in every case, if the terms of the Trust are not complied with, but it will
first affect the young and the weakly. It is, therefore, to be hoped that
considerations of humanity, if not of policy, will induce the peoples and the
Governments of Europe to accede without delay to the conditions which I have
the honour to submit.

As may well be imagined, this seemingly preposterous circular was received
either with derision or contemptuous silence in every capital of Europe save
Paris. There its import was only too well-known, but at the same time it was
impossible for France alone among the nations to acknowledge herself the vassal
of the Trust. In Petersburg something of the truth was known; but the
Government, confident of the success of the two expeditions, just dropped the
communication into the official waste- paper basket and went on with its naval
and military preparations.

Everything depended upon the six vessels which were steaming towards Boothia
Land reaching their goal and accomplishing their mission. If they succeeded,
Europe would be plunged into the bloodiest war that had been fought since the
days of Napoleon. If they failed, the war would be stopped by an invisible, but
irresistible, force, and humanity would be astounded by the accomplishment of
such a miracle of science as it had never seen before.

CHAPTER XXV

Every day after the issue of the circular the wire which connected the Storage
Works with Winnipeg was kept hot with the news of what was going on in the far-
away civilised world, but for some time all that was heard in that land of
unsetting suns only amounted to this: Everywhere the Press of Europe had
received the pronouncement of the Trust with incredulous derision. It had, in
fact, provided professional humourists and caricaturists with quite a new field
of industry.

The Governments, as had been expected, took not the slightest notice of it,
and General Ducros and the French President, who alone knew what a terrible
meaning lay in the plain business-like language of the circular, awaited more
and more anxiously as the days went by the execution of the dread fiat of the
World Masters.

The sinking of the Vlodoya and the disappearance of the Nadine had convinced
the Minister for War and also the Russian Government that the plot to capture
the controllers of the Storage Trust had failed, but they could do nothing
without admitting that they knew and believed in the power of the Trust to do
as it threatened. Moreover, they could not submit to the terms unless all the
other Powers did, and they had not even deigned to notice the existence of the
Trust. Meanwhile, the preparations for war went on, and on the day before the
expiration of the time given by the general ultimatum to France, the French
troops crossed the border at Verdun, Nancy, and Mulhausen, and the Northern
Squadron, strongly reinforced, blockaded the mouth of the Elbe and the Kiel
Canal. The Russian Baltic Squadron, which had been going through its summer
manoeuvres, blocked the exits from the inland seas and threatened the northern
coast of Germany, while the Russian army was concentrating in enormous numbers
at several points along the Polish frontier.

When Austin Vandel took the dispatch containing this last news into the
department at the works which was commonly called the board-room, the president
passed it to Lord Orrel and Hardress, who were having a smoke and afternoon
chat with him, and said:

"Well, I reckon the Powers mean business, and so, as they haven't had the
politeness to answer that communication of ours, I reckon it's about time we
showed them that we mean it, too. They'll be fighting by this time."

"I suppose so," replied Lord Orrel; "and of course it's no use waiting any
longer under the circumstances."

"Not a bit," added Hardress; "in fact, as you know, my idea was to start a
fortnight ago. If we'd done that they might have found it a bit difficult even
to start."

"But after all, Shafto," said his father, "a fortnight matters nothing to us;
and the object-lesson will be very much more striking if we allow hostilities
to get into full swing, and then bring them to a dead stop. Still, we will
begin at once, and I propose, president, that when everything is ready your
daughter shall do us the honour of starting the engines."

"And if that wants any seconding," added Hardress, "I'll do it."

"I reckon that'll be about the proudest moment of Chrysie's life," laughed the
president. "And seeing that our guests have pretty good reason to take an
interest in the engines, perhaps it would only be polite to ask them to come
and assist at the ceremony."

"Oh, certainly," said Lord Orrel. "There can't be any objection to that.
Shafto, suppose you go and invite them. And it wouldn't be a bad idea if we had
a little dinner together afterwards, just to celebrate the occasion. You might
see Miss Chrysie also and request the honour of her services.

As Hardress left the room the president said to his nephew: "Austin, you can
go and wire to our people here and over in England that the experiment begins
to-night. Ask them to let us have all the news they can send, and especially to
let us know whether any electric disturbances take place in our territories;
and you might ask Doctor Lamson to come over for a few minutes."

From this conversation it will be seen that the momentous voyage of the Nadine
had ended without any further mishap. Davis Straits and the Northern waters had
been singularly clear of ice, and she had been able to steer the whole way to
Port Adelaide without difficulty. Doctor Lamson had received them in the midst
of his marvellous creation as quietly as though he had been receiving them in
his own house at Hampstead. They had all admired and wondered at the sombre
magnificence of what was certainly the most extraordinary structure on the face
of the globe. But those who are permitted to see them have marvelled still more
at the huge engines and the maze of intricately complicated apparatus which the
magic of money and science had called into being in the midst of this desolate
wilderness.

So far, the involuntary guests of the Trust had not been permitted to see
anything more than the outsides of the engine-rooms and the apartments which
they occupied. They had been politely but unmistakably given to understand
that, after what had happened, it would be necessary to consider them as
prisoners. They would be treated with every consideration—in fact, as guests.
But at the same time, they would be closely watched, and any attempt to
communicate with any officer or workman employed on the Works would be
immediately punished by close confinement for all of them. For their part, they
had accepted the strange situation with perfect philosophy, and awaited the
coming of the expeditions with a great deal more confidence than they would
have felt had they known the terrible nature of the defences with which Doctor
Lamson had armed this fortress in the wilderness.

Within an hour after the president had pronounced the fiat which was to alter
the history of the world, everything was in readiness for the making of the
Great Experiment, and, for the first time since their arrival in Boothia, Count
Valdemar, Sophie, and the marquise were admitted into the great engine- rooms
which stood in the middle of each side of the quadrangle. They stared in frank
astonishment at the colossal machinery, and the count said to the president as
they entered No.1, or the Northern engine-room:

"Our aims may not be the same, but I am compelled to confess that you have
wrought a most astounding miracle in the midst of the ghastly desert."

"It's pretty good," he replied; "but, after all, it's just the sort of miracle
that dollars and brains can work all the time. This is not the miracle, this is
only what is going to work it. The real miracle will be what our friends in
Europe see and feel. Well, now, doctor, are we ready?"

"Quite," replied Lamson. "Lady Olive, you will send the signal to the other
rooms? A man is stationed in each of them, and if you touch that button when
Miss Vandel pulls the lever you will start the other three engines."

Miss Chrysie, looking just a trifle pale and nervous, took hold of the lever
and stood ready to perform the most momentous act ever done by the hand of
woman. It had been decided to start the engines precisely at six, and the
minute hand of the engine-room clock was getting very near the perpendicular.

"It seems a pretty awful thing to do, you know, poppa," she said, "just to
pull this thing and set half the world dying."

"No; I think you are wrong there, Chrysie," said Hardress, who was standing
beside her, and Adelaide's teeth gritted together as she heard the name for the
first time from his lips. "When you pull that lever you will save life, not
destroy it. Without us the war might go on for months or years and cost
millions of lives: but ten days after you have pulled that lever the European
war will be impossible."

"Then," said Miss Chrysie, tightening her grip on the handle, "I guess I'll
pull!" At this moment the clock struck the first note of six, and at the third
she drew the lever towards her.

The starting-engine gave a few short puffs and pants. Lady Olive touched the
button, and the bells tinkled in the other engine-rooms. The huge cranks of the
steel giants began to revolve. The mighty cylinders gasped and hissed, and the
huge fly-wheels began to move, at first almost imperceptibly, and then faster
and faster, till each was a whirling circle of bright steel. The hiss of the
steam ceased, and the four giants settled down to their momentous work in
silence, save for a low, purring hum, which was not to cease day or night until
armed Europe had acknowledged their all-compelling power.

"It is very wonderful, but very weird," said Adelaide to Chrysie as they left
the room, "if only it is all true. To think that you, by just bending your arm
should set those mighty monsters to work—and such work! to steal the soul out
of the world, to paralyse armies and fleets, perhaps to make Governments
impossible—perhaps to reduce civilisation to chaos!"

"I reckon those engines will cause less chaos than your friends in Europe,
marquise," she replied, shortly, but not unkindly; "but, anyhow, they should
have taken poppa's terms; and if they will fight, they must pay for the luxury.
Anyhow, we'd better not talk about that; it's no use getting unfriendly over
subjects we can't agree upon. What do you say, countess?"

"I entirely agree with you," said Sophie, frankly. "You know, Adelaide, that
for prisoners of war we are being treated exceedingly well. And for the
present, at least, until our hosts are able to terminate their invitation, I
think we might be as nearly friends as we can be."

"That's so," said Miss Chrysie, heartily, yet well knowing that they were both
awaiting the moment when, as they believed, the arrival of the expeditions
would make the present owners of the works prisoners of France and Russia, and
that either of them would poison her or put a bullet through her without the
slightest hesitation. "Yes; that's so. We've got to live here together for a
bit, and I reckon we may as well do it as pleasantly as possible. And now,
suppose we go to dinner."

All things considered, the dinner was really a most agreeable function. The
principal topic of conversation was, of course, the effect which the starting
of the works would produce on the Northern Hemisphere in general and the fleets
and armies of Europe in particular. International politics, too, were
discussed, not only with freedom, but with a knowledge which would have
astonished many a European Minister; but one subject was tabooed by mutual
consent, and that was the French and Russian Polar Expeditions, which, if they
were really making for Boothia Land, ought to arrive in about a week's time.

The three involuntary guests knew perfectly well that their hosts were
expecting them. Their hosts knew that they knew this, and, therefore, as a
matter of politeness and mutual convenience, the words "Polar Expedition" were
absolutely banished from their conversation. Meanwhile, Port Adelaide had been
fast emptying for the time when the colliers and cargo boats could get back,
for the time was limited. Only the Nadine and the Washington, a passenger boat
capable of about sixteen knots, which had brought the staff up from Halifax,
were kept, in addition to a couple of steam launches and a powerful tug
sheathed and fitted as an icebreaker.

The Nadine and the Washington constantly patrolled the coast for twenty miles
in each direction, on the lookout for the expeditions. Around and inside the
works life went on as quietly as though nothing out of the common was
happening. The unsetting sun rose and dipped on the southern horizon, and the
great engines purred unceasingly, working out the dream of the man whose
mangled body lay in a nameless grave on an alien soil.

They had been working for six days when Europe awoke to an uneasy suspicion
that, after all, there must have been something in that preposterous circular
which the Electrical Power and Storage Trust, of Buffalo, N.Y., had sent out
some five weeks before.

On the evening of the fifth day after Miss Chrysie had pulled the lever over
in No. 1 engine-room a series of unaccountable accidents happened in the engine-
rooms of the French Northern Squadron, which was blockading the mouth of the
Elbe. Do what they would, the engineers could not keep the engines working
smoothly. Little accidents kept on happening with such frequency that the
efforts of the whole staff could scarcely keep the engines in working order;
and about the same time the officers on the bridges, noticed that the compasses
were beginning to behave in a most extraordinary fashion. Even when the ships
were quite stationary, they wavered two or three degrees on either side of
north, and as the night wore on the variation increased.

The next morning there happened what, up to then, was the strangest incident
in warfare. The Charles Martel, one of the most powerful ironclads in the
French fleet, was cruising under easy steam, just out of range of the heavy
guns on the canal forts, when the admiral commanding the squadron, who was on
the bridge, heard a muffled grinding noise, and felt a shudder run through the
vast fabric. The next moment an officer came up from the lower deck, saluted,
and gasped:

"Admiral, the port shaft has broken, and we are only going quarter speed!"

He had hardly got the last words out of his mouth before there was another
grinding shock, and a dull rattle away down in the vitals of the ship.

"Ah, there is something more!" cried the officer. "They tell me that the
engines have been mad all night."

"Go and see what it is," said the admiral; "we must put out to sea with one
engine." At that moment the chief engineer came up, looking white and scared,
and said, in a low, shaking voice:

"Monsieur, the crank shaft of the starboard engine has splintered as though it
had been made of glass. We are disabled!"

"Nom de Dieu!" exclaimed the admiral. "What is that you say? —disabled? and
the tide setting in. Then we are lost. A few minutes will take us within range
of the guns on the Canal and at Cuxhaven, and in an hour we may be ashore.
There is no hope of repairs, I suppose?"

"Impossible, Monsieur I'Amiral. It would take weeks in the best dockyard in
France to repair the damage."

"Then," said the admiral, turning to the commander, who was standing beside
him, "we must do what we can. We will not be lost for nothing. Let everything
be ready to return the fire of the forts as soon as we are within range."

By this time the German officers on the forts had noted with amazement, not
unmixed with satisfaction, that some unaccountable accident had happened to the
great French battleship. She was not under steam, she was not steering, she was
simply drifting in with the tide as helplessly as a barrel. The tide was
setting dead in towards the mouth of the Canal, and the commander of the great
fort at Brunsbiittel, making certain of her surrender or destruction, ordered
three of his heaviest guns, monsters capable of throwing a nine-hundred-pound
shell to a distance of nearly fourteen miles, to prepare for action. They were
mounted on disappearing carriages worked by hydraulic machinery.

The guns were already loaded, the mechanism was set in motion, and the giants
rose slowly till their muzzles grinned over the glacis of the fort. Then,
without any warning, the framework of one of the carriages cracked and
splintered in all directions, the huge gun came back with a terrific crash on
to the concrete floor of the emplacement, and, to the amazement of officers and
gunners, broke into three pieces as if it had been made of glass instead of the
finest steel that Krupp could produce.

Officers and men stared at each other in silent amazement. Were even the guns
and their machinery affected by this strange languor which had been afflicting
both men and animals for the last day or two? Instinctively they drew away from
the other gun; but the Charles Martel was now well within range, and Colonel
Von Altenau saw that it was his duty not to allow her to come any closer. In
fact, he was almost surprised to see that she had not already opened fire upon
the fort, so he ordered the centre gun to be trained on her and fired.

As the lanyard was pulled, those on board the battleship saw a vivid burst of
flame, and the roar of an explosion came dully across the water, but no shell
followed it. The admiral immediately came to the conclusion that some accident
had happened in the fort, and he ordered his two forward 13-inch guns to send a
couple of shells into it. He went into the conning-tower, and as soon as he
received the signal that the guns were ready and laid, he pressed the electric
button which should have sent the sparks through the charges. Nothing happened,
and the guns remained silent.

Then he called down the speaking-tube connecting the conning-tower with the
barbette:

"The wire does not act. Let the guns be fired by hand."

He was obeyed, and the next moment the blast of a frightful explosion shook
the whole fabric of 'the ship. Barbette and guns disappeared in a blinding
blaze of flame. The solid steel crumbled to dust, the decks cracked like
starred glass in all directions, and some forty brave fellows were blown over
the edge of eternity without even knowing what had happened to them. Both guns
had burst into thousands of fragments, just as the great German gun in the fort
had done, killing every man within twenty yards of it. The guns had, in fact,
behaved much as that little square of steel had done when Doctor Emil Fargeau
hit it with a wooden mallet.

Thus the first shots of the war had resulted only in the slaying of those who
had fired them. As the helpless Charles Martel drifted slowly towards the other
forts, they attempted to open fire on her, but after two more big guns had
blown themselves to atoms, and killed or maimed a hundred men, she was allowed
to drift on until she found a resting-place on the Elbe mud.

On the other ships of the French Squadron disaster after disaster had been
happening meanwhile. Engine after engine broke down, electric signals, as well
as the electrical ammunition lifts, ceased to work. The compass cards swung
about as aimlessly as though there was no such thing as a Magnetic Pole in
existence, and as ship after ship became disabled with broken shafts, cracked
cylinders, or splintered piston-rods, a score of the finest warships that
France had ever put to sea drifted helplessly up with the tide under the eyes
of an enemy that could not fire a shot at them.

The commander-in-chief of the Brunsbiittel station telegraphed to his
colleague at Kiel to report the unaccountable disaster, but no answer was
received. The message was repeated, and a lieutenant came in a fevv minutes
later, clicked his heels together, and said:

"Herr Commandant, it is impossible to communicate with Kiel, the instruments
have ceased to work. I have telephoned as well, but the wires are dead."

"But it is ridiculous—unaccountable!" exclaimed the commandant. "We must
communicate. Have an engine made ready at once, Lieutenant, and go yourself I
will send a letter."

The lieutenant found a locomotive with steam up. He took the commandant's
letter and started. Within fifty yards the engine broke down as completely as
the machinery of the Charles Martel had done.

CHAPTER XXVI

Eight days out of the ten calculated by the president and Doctor Lamson for
the progress of the Great Experiment had expired, and Europe presented the
extraordinary spectacle of a continent armed to the teeth, possessing the
mightiest weapons of destruction that human science and skill could invent and
construct—and divided into two hostile camps which were practically unable to
hurt each other.

Away in the far northern wilderness the giant engines purred on remorselessly,
continually drawing away more and more of the vital earth- spirit from Europe
and Asia. In Great Britain and North America nothing had happened, except a
succession of abnormally violent thunderstorms, and certain other minor
electrical disturbances which were only detected by instruments at the
observatories; but all cables had ceased to work, and the only sea
communication possible was by means of wooden sailing ships, for every steamer,
whether warship, liner, or tramp, broke down when she got about fifteen miles
from the English or American coasts. What was happening in the Southern
Hemisphere no one knew till long afterwards.

Throughout Europe and Asia a most extraordinary condition of things was coming
to pass. What had happened at Kiel happened also at all the great fortresses
along the German frontier which were invested by the French and Russians. Guns
of all calibres on both sides burst, killing those who used them, but doing no
damage to the enemy. Quick- firing guns jammed or burst and became useless. If
a man tried to fire a rifle, the breech-lock blew out and killed or maimed him,
until French and Germans, Russians, Austrians, and Italians alike refused to
fire a shot, and even on the rare occasions when bodies of men got near enough
to each other for a cavalry or bayonet charge, lance-points, sabres, and
bayonets cracked and splintered like so many icicles.

By the tenth day every officer and man in Europe had recognised that if the
war was to go on at all it would have to be fought out with fists and feet. All
modern weapons of warfare had suddenly become useless. Moreover, communication
had become so difficult, that the feeding of the vast armies in the field was
rapidly approaching impossibility, and the helpless, hostile battalions were
beginning to starve in sight of each other. Locomotives broke down or blew up,
bridges collapsed under the weight of the trains, and now horses and men had
become afflicted with a deadly languor which made severe exertion an
impossibility.

From the war lords of the nations to the raw conscripts and the camp-
followers it was the same. Neither mind nor body would do its work. The soul of
the world was leaving it—drawn out by those remorseless engines into the vast
receivers of the Storage Works—and men were beginning to find that without it
they could neither think nor work any more than they could fight.

There was not a cable or a telegraph line in Europe or Asia that could be
operated, not a stationary or locomotive engine that would work without
breaking down or blowing up. Electric lighting and traction had for two or
three days been things of the past. Throughout two continents industries and
commerce, like war, were at a standstill; a sort of creeping paralysis had
spread from the Straits of Dover to the Sea of Japan.

There were no exceptions, from the rulers of the highest civilisations down to
the sampan men of Canton and the fur-clad Samoyeds of the northern wilderness.
Great fleets and squadrons were either drifting about the ocean or lying
helpless on rock or sand or mud-bank, like the silenced forts full of guns and
ammunition and yet unable to fire a single shot either in attack or defence.

On the morning of the eleventh day the French President, who had been drawn
along the useless railway from Paris to Calais by relays of horses harnessed to
a light truck running on wheels of papier-maché, embarked for Dover on board a
fishing-lugger. Twelve hours before the German Emperor had sailed from
Cuxhaven, which he had reached by rail with infinite difficulty, and after a
dozen breakdowns, for Harwich in a fast wood-built schooner- yacht.

During the last four or five days there had been very little communication
between the Continent and England. All English steamers, including warships,
had been forbidden to pass the three-mile limit. By a happy accident the
Channel Fleet and the Home Defence Squadron had anchored in British waters
after the manoeuvres just before Miss Chrysie pulled that fatal lever. The
Mediterranean Fleet was at Malta, powerless to move an engine or fire a gun.
Communication across the narrow seas was still possible by wooden sailing
craft, and it was the news which these had brought from England that had
induced the Kaiser and the President to go and see the miracle for themselves.

The moment that they set foot on English soil, which they did almost about the
same time, the growing lassitude of the last few days vanished.

"These are truly the Fortunate Isles just now," exclaimed the Kaiser, as he
drew his first breath of the cool English air. "A few moments and I am a man
again. Then that circular which we all laughed at so was true!" he went on, to
himself. "Yes, everything seems going on as usual. They seem to be caring as
little about the state of Europe as they did about the African war. Why,
there's a train running as easily as though the railways of Europe were not
strewn with wrecks."

Then he turned to the aide-de-camp who had accompanied him, and said:

"Von Kritzener, see if you can get me a special to London—but no, we had
better keep incognito. Be good enough to go and see when there is a fast train
to London, and then we will get something to eat."

The Emperor and his aide were both in ordinary yachting costume, and the
points of the famous moustache had been drooped downwards. The aide came back
to the yacht in a few minutes, saying that there was a fast train to London in
forty minutes; so his majesty dined briefly but well at the Great Eastern
Hotel, and presently found himself speeding swiftly and smoothly and with an
unwonted sense of security towards London.

The French President experienced practically the same sensations when he
landed at Dover and took the train to Charing Cross. Everything was going on
just as usual. They were even doing target practice with the big guns from
Dover Castle; and as he heard the boom of the cannon, he thought with a shudder
of what had happened only a day or two before to the great French siege-guns
before Metz and Strassburg.

All he noticed out of the common was what the Kaiser noticed too— lines of
great steel masts along the coast and clumps of them on every elevation inland.
From what he had already learnt from General Ducros, he half- guessed that
these were the means through which the earth received the vast volumes of
electricity given off from the works in Boothia Land, and that it was thus that
the magnetic equilibrium was kept undisturbed.

In London nothing seemed altered. Everybody was going about his daily business
as though no such continent as Europe existed; so the President and the Kaiser,
wondering greatly, both went and put up at Claridge's, and there, to their
mutual astonishment, recognised each other. Both were strictly incognito, both
recognised that the state of affairs in Europe had reached the limits of the
possible, and both guessed that they had come practically on the same errand.
Wherefore Kaiser bowed to President and President bowed to Kaiser, after which
they shook hands, took wine together, and, like a couple of good sportsmen,
proceeded a little later on to discuss the situation in the Kaiser's private
sitting-room.

The result of an interesting and momentous conversation was that the Kaiser
sent his aide with an autograph letter to Marlborough House requesting the
honour of an interview with King Edward for himself and the President.

The answer was a royal brougham and pair, and a cordial invitation to the two
potentates whom fate and the great Storage Trust had brought so strangely
together to sleep at Marlborough House.

Nearly the whole of the next day was occupied in interviews between the three
rulers, and also with the Ministers of the great Powers who were still in
London. The American Minister and the English manager of the Great Storage
Trust were present at most of them. At the end of a lengthy discussion on the
status quo, the Kaiser confessed, in his usual frank, manly fashion, that not
only Germany, but Europe, was helpless in face of the invisible but tremendous
force which the Trust had shown itself capable of exercising.

"We are beaten," he said, "and it would be only foolishness to hide the fact.
Our ships are helpless hulks, most of them wrecks, our trains will not run, our
machinery will not work, our guns will not shoot. Within three days we have
gone back to the Middle Ages, or beyond them, for, even if we had armour, you
could break it with your fist, and you would not even want a mailed one," he
added, with a laugh at his own expense.

"There are over ten millions of men carrying arms they cannot use, and
hundreds of thousands of these men are starving because the railways are
useless and no food can be got to them. It would be absurd were it not so great
a tragedy; but since we cannot fight, we must arrange our differences some
other way. What do you say. Monsieur le President?"

"I say as your Majesty does," replied Monsieur Loubet, in his blunt,
commonsense fashion; "and since these gentlemen of the Trust have shown us how
helpless fleets and armies may be rendered, perhaps Europe may be induced to
seek for some more reasonable method of arranging disputes than by the shedding
of blood."

"I most sincerely hope so," said King Edward; "and if these gentlemen are
prepared to endorse these sentiments on behalf of their august masters, I think
there will be little difficulty in arranging matters satisfactorily and putting
an end to what may be justly described as an intolerable and impossible
condition of affairs. What do you say, gentlemen?" he went on, turning to the
Ministers.

"I fear, your Majesty, it would be necessary for me to communicate with my
imperial master before I could pledge him to any course resembling surrender."

"My dear count," said the Kaiser, turning towards him with a laugh, "I am
afraid you hardly realise the position. It would take you at the very least
three weeks, possibly six, to reach Petersburg. You forget that all the
mechanical triumphs of civilisation are for the present things of the past.
There are no cables, no telegraphs, no railways. Neither horses nor men are
capable of any great exertion, and their strength is becoming less every hour.
Petersburg is farther from London to-day than Pekin was a month ago."

"And even from Paris," added the President when the Emperor had finished, "I
have been four days travelling. I came to Calais in a truck drawn by horses
along the railway, and from Calais in a fishing boat. Gentlemen, if I may
venture to advise, I would suggest that the best, nay, the only thing that
Europe, in your persons, can do, is to place itself in the hands of His Majesty
King Edward. We have been enemies, but he is the friend of all of us, and if
any man on earth can and will do right it is he."

"I entirely agree with Monsieur le President," said the Kaiser. "We are
helpless, and he can help us. For my own part, I place the interests of Germany
unreservedly in his hands."

After this it was impossible for the Ministers of the other Powers to hold
back, and so a joint note was drawn up there and then, praying King Edward to
accept the office of mediator between the signatory Powers and those uncrowned
monarchs who, from their citadel in the midst of the far-off northern
wilderness, had proved their title to sovereignty by demonstrating their power
to render the nation helpless at their will.

The only communication that was now possible with Canada, and therefore with
Boothia Land, was by means of aerographic messages transmitted from one station
to another via the north of Scotland, The Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, and
Newfoundland, where the cable was working as usual. It took nearly twelve hours
for the messages to reach the works, and the president had scarcely
communicated its contents to his colleagues when the Nadine came rushing full
speed into Adelaide Bay with the news that the great Russian ice-breaker, with
three other vessels in her wake, was steaming down from the northward about
twenty miles away.

CHAPTER XXVII

The news of the coming of the expeditions was allowed to spread without
comment through the works, and, to the intense surprise of the three
involuntary guests of the Trust, no apparent precautions were taken to protect
the works or the harbour in which the Nadine and the Washington were now lying
against the coming of what everyone knew could be nothing but a hostile force.
The two vessels having made their report, filled their bunkers and steamed out
of the harbour again to the southward and westward. The great engines purred
on, still draining Europe and Asia of their vital essence. An aerograph message
was sent to King Edward and the President of the United States. The one to King
Edward informed his Majesty that the president and board of trust, while
insisting upon the terms of the circular they had addressed to the Powers of
Europe, and giving fair warning of what would happen if those terms were
ignored, were perfectly content to leave everything else in His Majesty's hands.

The message to the President gave him all the news that there was to give, and
informed him that as soon as the King's decision was announced the engines
would be stopped, the insulators removed, and the electrical and magnetic
currents allowed to flow back over their natural courses, the result of which
would be that, in from twenty-four to thirty-six hours, normal conditions would
be re-established, and the business of the world could go on as usual. All
fighting, however, save under a war-tax of a dollar per head per week of men
engaged in armies and fleets would be prohibited. If this condition, which the
London manager of the Trust had been instructed to lay before His Majesty and
the foreign Ministers in London, were violated, the engines would be started
again, with the same results as before.

It was about eight o'clock in the evening of the same day, to put it in
conventional terms, for the long summer twilight of Boothia Land knew no
morning and no evening, that the huge shape of the Russian ice-breaker,
followed by her three consorts, one a genuine wooden-built exploring ship and
the others, to a nautical eye, unmistakably steel cruisers disguised with
wooden sheathings, rounded Cape Adelaide into the bay. A couple of miles behind
them came the three ships of the French expedition, an antiquated cruiser
fitted with the best modern guns, and two obsolete coast-defence ships, slow
but strong, and also armed with formidable guns.

"So your friends have come at last," said Miss Chrysie to Adelaide and Sophie
as they were taking their evening promenade along one of the broad parapeted
walls which formed the quadrangle of the works. "Somehow I always thought it
was this pole they were going to look for, not the other one. I reckon they
allowed there was a lot more to be found here than up north yonder."

"Of course they did," said Adelaide, with a low laugh that had a wicked ring
in it. "There is no need for diplomacy now. Here is the world-throne, the seat
of such power as man never wielded before. Here, within these four great walls,
are contained the destinies of all the nations on earth. Here is everything;
anywhere else nothing. Pah! is it not worth fighting for?"

"My dear marquise," said Sophie, "do you not think that you are letting your
feelings run away with you? I grant you they are natural, but—"

"But I guess that's what she means all the same," said Chrysie; "and I don't
like her any the less for saying it. Those scientific expeditions of yours have
just come out here to take the works by storm, if they can, and run the show on
their own. Well, that's war, and we're not going to grumble at it. We've made
war on Europe, and Europe's feeling pretty sick over it; but I'll tell you
honestly that the sickness of Europe just now isn't a circumstance to what
those expeditions are going to experience if they try to rush these works by
force, and they won't get them any other way. Well, now I see that some of the
people are going down to the steam launch. Shouldn't wonder if Lord Orrel and
poppa were sending your friends an invitation to supper, or breakfast, or
whatever you'd call it in this everlasting daylight. I reckon that would be
quite an interesting little surprise-party, wouldn't it?"

"Delightful!" said Sophie, her quick wits already at work on the problem of
how to turn such a surprise-party to the advantage of Russia. After all, when
the supreme moment came, it might be possible. Victor Fargeau would be there on
the French expedition, with all the information required to keep the works in
operation, or to give the soul which they had stolen from the world back to it.
Even at the last moment it was still possible to triumph.

Almost at the same instant similar thoughts were passing through Adelaide's
brain. Here were both expeditions. They had arrived at the psychological
moment. She knew that the ships were armed with the finest weapons that modern
science could create. There were hundreds of trained sailors, gunners, and
marines on board. The works were within easy range of the bay, where the
Russian ships were even now coming to an anchor. Surely in the face of such a
force—a force which could wreck even these tremendous works—the Masters of the
World could do nothing but surrender. At the same time, she would have given a
good deal to have had in her pocket the dainty little revolver which she knew
Miss Chrysie had in hers.

While they were talking, the French expedition, of which one of the ships had
broken down and been compelled to refit at Halifax, delaying both expeditions
over a week, in addition to the coaling, rounded Cape Adelaide and proceeded to
anchor. There were now six armed vessels in the bay, at a distance of about
four miles from the works.

A glance through a pair of field-glasses from the walls made it plain that all
disguise had now been thrown aside. The joint Polar expeditions were now
frankly hostile squadrons. The great ice-breaker mounted two six-inch guns
forward, one aft, and six twelve-pound quick-firers on each broadside. The
wooden exploring ship carried no heavy metal, but the disguised cruisers had
mounted all their guns; the French vessels, too, frankly bristled with weapons,
from guns capable of throwing a lOO-lb. shell down to one-pound quick-firers
and Maxims. In short, if the works had been a hostile fortress no more
unmistakable demonstration could have been made against them by a beleaguering
squadron.

But although there was no mistaking the errand of the ships, and though it was
plain that they had been expected, the guest-prisoners were astounded to find
that, so far as they could see, not the slightest preparations were taken for
defence. There was not a gun visible, and everyone, chiefs and workmen, went
about their business without the slightest show of concern. The vast quadrangle
stood amidst the rocks and sand of the wilderness, dark, silent, and
inscrutable, and the huge engines purred on unceasingly, and Austin Vandel sat
at his instruments in the telegraph-room, awaiting the word from the King of
England, which alone could stop them.

"They are inscrutable, these people," said Sophie to Adelaide when Chrysie had
left them on the wall to answer a message from her father. "They know that the
guns on those ships could level even these huge walls with the ground in a few
hours, wreck their machinery—though our friend Victor would scarcely allow them
to do that if he could help it—and bring them to the choice between surrender
and death; but here they are, going on with their work as usual, and not even
taking any notice of the arrival of the fleet. Mr Vandel told papa that they
have lOO-lb. dynamite guns, but where are they?—there's not a weapon of any
kind to be seen."

"That doesn't say that they are not here, my dear Sophie," replied Adelaide.
"In fact, I confess that this very silence and apparent carelessness may hide
some terrible possibilities. You know what an easy prey we thought we should
find the Nadine, and you saw what happened to the Vlodoya. Frankly, I tell you
I do not think that the success of the expeditions is at all certain. You never
know what these diabolical people with their new inventions are going to do
next. Look how that hateful American girl has outwitted us all along; and yet
she's as friendly as possible all the time."

"Except when she was firing on the Vlodoya with that horrible gun of hers,"
added Sophie. "Don't you wish you had that revolver of hers?"

"I would give my soul for it," replied Adelaide, between her clenched teeth.

"And if you had it, what would you do with it?"

"Kill her first, and then him," came from between the marquise's clenched teeth.

"What!" said Sophie, with a vicious little laugh, "kill the man for whose sake
you were willing to betray all our plans and perhaps lose us the control of the
world? Why, your first condition was that no harm should come to him."

"I had hopes then, I have none now," she replied, in a tone that sounded like
a snarl. "He has found me out, and I have lost him; and when you have lost a
man, why should he go on living? I have loved him; yes, perhaps I love him
still in some strange way; but you are woman enough and Russian enough, Sophie,
to know that I would rather be a mourner at their funeral than a bridesmaid at
their wedding."

"My dear Adelaide," said Sophie, slipping her arm through hers, "that is an
excellent sentiment excellently expressed. Now I see that you are with us
entirely. We are really true allies now, and it rests with us and papa to make
the success of the expedition a certainty. Will you promise me that if matters
come to an extremity, as they certainly will do in a few hours, you really will
shoot Ma'm'selle Chrysie and this absurd Englishman who has preferred an
American hoyden to the most beautiful woman in Europe?"

"Yes; if I could, I would do it. I would swear that to you on a crucifix,"
replied Adelaide de Condd, in a low tone that had a hiss running through it.

"Then come down to my room and I will show you something," said Sophie. "I
dare not do it here, for you never know what eyes are watching you."

When they reached Sophie's apartment she put her hand into the side- pocket of
a long fur-trimmed cloak that she was wearing, and took out Miss Chrysie's
revolver.

"There it is," she said, handing it to the marquise. "You have told me that
you are a good shot, so you can use it better that I can. I hope you will use
it at the right time and won't miss."

"But how?" exclaimed Adelaide, staring at her in amazement as she put out her
hand for the dainty little weapon.

"How!" laughed Sophie. "My dearest Adelaide, we have to learn many things in
such a service as ours. Miss Chrysie did not know that she was walking and
talking just now with one of the most expert pickpockets in Europe. Why, I once
stole an ambassador's letter-case while I was waltzing with him. He was
terribly upset, poor man, and of course I sympathised with him; but it was
never found, and the contents proved very useful."

"You are wonderful, Sophie!" exclaimed Adelaide, as she put the revolver into
her pocket. "And, of course, all things are fair in love, war, and diplomacy.
Well, you have no need to fear that I shall not use this."

At this moment there was a knock at the door, and the count came in.

"Well, papa," said Sophie, "have you any news? What are these people going to
do? Have you been able to persuade them to surrender to the expedition?"

"On the contrary, my dear Sophie," he replied, "they are more inexplicable
than ever. Would you believe it that Lord Orrel has actually asked me to go
down with him to the port and ask the French and Russian leaders of the
expedition to dinner, the invitation to include our excellent friend Victor
Fargeau?"

"That is only a plot!" exclaimed the marquise; "a shallow plot to get them
into the works and make them prisoners. Of course they will not be so idiotic
as to come."

"It is difficult," said the count, "to see how they could refuse such a
hospitable offer without at once declaring hostilities. We do not know how the
works are defended, or what unknown means of destruction these people may
possess, and, to be quite candid, I do not think that our hosts would be guilty
of an act of treachery. You know these Anglo-Saxons are always chivalrous to
the verge of imbecility. For instance, if the tables had been turned, should we
have treated them as they have treated us? I think you will agree with me that
we should not. No; I have no fears whatever on that score, and I shall support
Lord Orrel's invitation with the most perfect confidence."

CHAPTER XXVIII

Lord Orrel and the count started from the little station just outside the
western gate of the works in the private car used by the directors and drawn by
a neat little electric engine, which was accustomed to do the four miles in ten
minutes.

Meanwhile, Lady Olive had what might, by a stretch of imagination, be called
afternoon tea, in that land where it was never quite afternoon or morning, on
the western wall looking down towards the harbour. When Miss Chrysie sat down
and threw back her afternoon wrap Adelaide and Sophie were disconcerted, if not
altogether surprised, to see that she had a light, long- barrelled, wicked-
looking pistol hanging by a couple of silver chains from her waist-band.

"My dear Chrysie," said Lady Olive, "what are you carrying that terrible-
looking weapon for? You don't expect that you will have to use it, surely," she
went on, with just a touch of sarcasm in her tone, "considering what very good
friends we have all managed to keep so far?"

"Well, I hope not," said Miss Chrysie, looking round the tables with eyes
which had both a laugh and a menace in them. "Of course, it is to be hoped that
everything will go off smoothly, but poppa had a friend in the old times who
said something that means a lot. He said, 'You don't want a gun often, but when
you do want it you want it badly.' Isn't that so, poppa?"

"Just his words, Chrysie," said the president, "just his words; and he knew
what he was talking about when he used them. I never met a man who could hold
his temper longer or shoot quicker; and when he used a gun someone usually
wanted a funeral pretty soon."

"But surely," said Sophie, "you don't suppose for a moment that our expected
guests from the expedition will—"

"I don't know what they'll do, although I think I know what they'll want to
do," she replied, quickly. "But somehow I managed to lose my other little
pepper-box this morning. Where it's gone to or who's got it I don't know, so I
got this instead. It's a pretty thing," she went on, playing with it as a woman
might toy with a jewel, "seven-shooter and magazine action. If you hold the
trigger back after you've fired the first shot, it shoots the other six in
about three seconds."

"A very handy thing in a tight corner, I should say," said Hardress, smiling
at her over the top of his tea-cup, "and in such hands I should think a very
ugly thing to face."

Adelaide's fingers were itching to take out the revolver and shoot both of
them when she saw the all-meaning glance which passed between them while he
spoke, but instead of that she raised her tea-cup and touched it with her
pretty lips, and as she put the cup down she said, with the sweetest of smiles,
to the president:

"I think it is quite charming of you, Mr President, to ask the leaders of the
expedition to dinner in such a friendly way. Surely it is not always usual to
ask the enemy within the gates?"

"We have no enemies, marquise," he replied, gravely, "except those who stand
in the way of our commercial undertaking, and with them, of course, business is
business, and there is no sentiment in that. Of course we have a pretty good
idea why these two expeditions have come to the magnetic pole instead of trying
to get to the North Pole, but we've not been lying awake at nights worrying
about that, and there's no particular reason why we shouldn't ask the
scientific explorers to dinner. All the same, if they happen to have come with
the idea that they have a better right to these works than we have, and they
want any trouble—why, they can have it."

"And," added Hardress, still looking across at Chrysie, "I think they will
find it the most extraordinary kind of trouble that mortal man ever ran up
against."

"It's to be hoped," said Doctor Lamson, speaking for the first time since the
little tea-party had begun, for he had been thinking hard, and every now and
then raising his eyes as though to seek inspiration from Lady Olive's calm,
patrician face, as calm now, on the eve of a struggle which could scarcely end
without bloodshed, and might end in ruin, as it would have been in a London
drawing-room—"I most sincerely hope that it will not come to actual
hostilities; it would be really too awful."

"I wonder if it would be permissible for a prisoner of war to ask what would
be too awful, doctor," said Sophie, looking at him with a smile which somehow
made him think of a beautiful tigress he had seen in the Thiergarten in Berlin.

"The means that we should be compelled to employ in such a case to reduce
those two squadrons, or expeditions, or whatever they call themselves, to
something about as unsubstantial as that," replied the doctor, blowing a puff
of cigarette smoke into the air.

At this moment Austin Vandel came up on to the wall, and handed a piece of
paper to his father.

"Just come through, dad," he said. "I reckon we've frozen that war clean out."

The president opened the paper and read aloud:

"'Powers agree to stop war and settle matters of dispute by arbitration if you
will restore electric equilibrium in Europe. Terms between you and Powers to be
arranged at a council of Sovereigns and Ministers presided over by myself. If
this is satisfactory, please reply, and stop your machinery. Conditions
becoming very serious in Europe.—(Signed) Edward R.I.'"

"Well," continued the president, "that means they've climbed down. Doctor, I
reckon we can switch off the engines now, couple up the connections, and use
the power for something else if it's wanted. What do you think, viscount?"

"Certainly," replied Hardress. "If the Powers have accepted King Edward's
arbitration we can do nothing else; and, besides, if our not entirely
unexpected visitors allow themselves to be tempted to commit any hostile act
after that they will place themselves outside the law of nations, and we shall
be at liberty to deal with them as we please."

"That's so," replied the president, looking lazily across the table at Sophie
and Adelaide. "Austin, you can go and telegraph to St John's that we put
ourselves entirely in King Edward's hands, and that the engines have stopped.
They'll have a few thunderstorms most likely, but in twenty-four hours
everything will be as it was before. You might also mention that the French and
Russian expeditions are here, and that to- night we hope to have the leaders to
dinner."

The dinner-party in the board-room of the works to which the guests sat down
at 8 P.M. was quite the strangest that had ever been given in the Northern
Hemisphere. It was a dinner given by the holders of a citadel which had been
proved to be the veritable throne of the world-empire to four men who had come
to the wilderness of Boothia Land with the now practically avowed object of
taking it from them by force of arms.

For no other possible reason could these two peaceful expeditions have sailed
from Riga and le Havre to go to the North Pole, or as near to it as might be,
and arrive at the Magnetic Pole, bristling with weapons, and obviously prepared
to attack the works, situated as they were on the territory of a friendly
nation, as though they were a fortress on hostile soil. Yet Vice- Admiral
Alexis Nazanoff, in command of the Russian expedition, came with Professor
Josef Karnina in just such friendly style as did Vice-Admiral Dumont and ex-
Captain Victor Fargeau, late of the German staff-corps.

They, were all far too well versed in the ways of war or diplomacy not to be
considerably surprised at the nature of their reception, even as they were at
the colossal dimensions of the buildings which at the bidding of the magic of
millions had arisen in the midst of this inhospitable wilderness. They had
expected a fleet of guardships protecting the entrance to the harbour, and they
would not have been surprised if their passage through the narrow Lankester
Sound had been prevented by torpedos, or opposed by privateers equipped by the
Trust; and for that reason they had mounted their guns and felt their way for
days at the rate of two or three knots an hour through the narrow passages
which led southward to Port Adelaide, but all they had seen was the fleeting
shape of a white-painted yacht, the now world-famous Nadine, scouting on the
horizon and then vanishing into the grey twilight of the long northern day.

Not only had they been permitted to anchor in the natural harbour which formed
the only approach by sea to the works without the slightest notice being taken
of them, but, most wonderful of all. Lord Orrel, the English nobleman who was
one of the three directors of the Trust, had come down with Count Valdemar,
who, with his daughter, had organised the Russian expedition, to invite them to
dinner in just as friendly a fashion as they might have done if Boothia Land
had been Paris, and the Great Storage Works the Hotel Bristol.

The situation was distinctly mystifying, and therefore not without its
elements of uneasiness—even perhaps of something keener, and the uneasiness and
the fear were amply shared by the friends whom they met so unexpectedly within
the four walls of the great world-citadel.

But astonishment became wonder when the two admirals, clad in their full-
dress uniforms, found themselves and their scientific colleagues ushered into
first a luxuriously—appointed reception-room lighted by softly-shaded electric
lamps, where the president of the Trust, the multi-millionaire magnate, the
king of commerce, who played with millions as boys play with counters,
dispensed cocktails from a bar which might have been spirited away from the
Waldorf-Astoria, and the men and women, friends and enemies, received them in
costumes which might have come straight from Poole's or Worth's.

Then, when the cocktails had been duly concocted and consumed, and Lord
Orrel's own butler announced that dinner was served, Lady Olive, as chatelaine
of the castle, took the Russian admiral's arm and led the way through the
curtained archway into the softly-lighted dining-room, so perfectly appointed
that it might well have been spirited from London or Paris or Petersburg to the
wilderness of Boothia.

The French admiral followed with Countess Sophie, Count Valdemar with the
marquise, and Lord Orrel with Miss Chrysie, the rest of the men bringing up the
rear.

The dinner, as Admiral Dumont said afterwards to Admiral Nazanoff, was a
gastronomic miracle. Wines, soup, fish, and so on, were perfect; it was a
wonder in the wilderness. But even more wonderful still was the conversation
which flowed so easily around the table. No one listening to it would have
dreamt that the greatest war of modern times had been brought to a state of
utter paralysis by the quiet-spoken men who were so lavishly entertaining
enemies who had come to dispossess them of the throne of the world, any more
than they would have dreamt that the elements of a possible revolution, greater
than any that had yet shaken the foundations of the world, were gathered round
that glittering, daintily-adorned dinner-table.

But when Lady Olive rose and led the way back to the drawing-room Lord Orrel
began the serious business of the evening by asking Hardress and Doctor Lamson
to pass a couple of decanters of '47 port, from the cellars of Orrel Court, to
their guests. When the decanters had gone round and the glasses were filled,
Lord Orrel raised his own glass, and said:

"Well, gentlemen, the time has come for me to formally and yet not the less
cordially bid you welcome to Boothia Land. We understood before we left England
that you were bound on a voyage of discovery to the North Pole; to that goal
which so many brave men have tried to reach, and which has so far been
unattainable."

Then his voice dropped to a sterner tone, and he went on:

"I wish to ask you, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, those who are
working with me in the enterprise which you have to-day seen in concrete form,
whether your visit is one of peace or war. Those, I am well aware, are grave
words to use, yet, under the strange circumstances which have brought us
together, I must ask you to believe me that it is necessary, even inevitable,
that they should be used. If you have paid a visit to Boothia Land and the
Storage Works only in the interests of science, I can assure you that we and
our staff will spare no pains to show you everything that can be seen.

"Considering the slow rate at which you have been compelled by circumstances
to travel from Halifax, it may not be within your knowledge that since you left
Europe we have happily been able to stop a great European war. We have
paralysed the fleets and armies of a continent, and the warships of Europe are
now resting motionless in dockyards or lying as wrecks on the sands and rocks
of the coasts. The great Powers have, in short, found it impossible to
prosecute the war without our consent—for, as a matter of fact, their armies
were starving to death in face of each other—and have consented to place their
difference in the hands of King Edward. The German Emperor, the President of
the French Republic, and the Ministers of all the Powers engaged have assented
to this. Here is a transcript of a dispatch received from London to-day, which
will, I hope, convince you that the world is, happily, once more at peace.
Therefore it is, of course, impossible that your mission can be anything but a
peaceful one."

The two admirals and Victor Fargeau had been looking at each other somewhat
uneasily while Lord Orrel was speaking. They had no idea of the events which
had been taking place in Europe during the last fortnight. What Lord Orrel had
said might be true or simply a deliberate attempt to frighten them out of their
purpose; but whether he was telling the truth or not, there were still the
sealed orders with which both expeditions had sailed, and obedience is the
first duty of a sailor. So when Lord Orrel continued:

"And, that being so, gentlemen, I hope you will be able to join me in a glass
of wine and drink to continued peace to Europe, and prosperity to the
enterprise which has so far been successfully carried through by those who have
the honour to be your hosts to-night."

"My lord," said the Russian admiral, rising to his feet, but not taking his
glass, "you have been honest with us, and we—I speak for my colleague, Admiral
Dumont, as well—cannot be less than honest with you. It is not necessary for me
to remind you that scientific Polar expeditions do not carry such guns as we
do—guns which, great and all as these buildings are, could wreck them in a few
hours. You have been frank with us, we will be frank with you. We know nothing
of this mysterious power by which, as your lordship says, you have stopped the
war in Europe. As servants of our countries, we know only the orders we have
received, and those are either to compel the surrender of these works into our
hands, or destroy them. We accepted your hospitality in the hope that we might
be able to make terms for a peaceable surrender."

"And that, sir," said Hardress, starting to his feet, "I may as well tell you
at once, is impossible. You can no more take or destroy these works than the
European armies could fight each other three days ago. You are our guests now,
and therefore safe from all harm. You are at liberty to rejoin your ships at
any time you please. If you choose to leave us in peace and take your way back
you may go, and there will be an end of the matter. But it is only my duty to
tell you that if a shot is fired with intent to injure any portion of these
works, you and your ships will not only be destroyed, you will be annihilated."

CHAPTER XXIX

A dead silence of some moments' duration—during which hosts and guests looked
at each other as men might before the outburst of a storm—then Victor Fargeau,
after an exchange of glances with the French admiral, said, in a voice which
trembled with angry emotion:

"Milords, I think I am speaking for my comrades as well as myself if I say
that we have come too far to be frightened from the accomplishment of our
purpose. For my own part, I may say that nothing, not even the fear of that
annihilation which the viscount has just threatened, would turn me from my
purpose, because I have come to take back that which is mine and France's.
These works may be your property, gentlemen, because you have built them with
your money and your labour, but the soul which animates them, which makes them
a living organism instead of a lifeless mass of brick and stone, the power
which you say has enabled you to paralyse the fleets and armies of Europe, that
is mine: for I am the son of the man who created it. He left it to me as his
last legacy. I have returned to my allegiance to France after doing her what
service I could elsewhere. Though France at first rejected the fruit of my
father's genius she has now accepted it, and in our persons she and her ally
are here to demand restitution of that which has been stolen from her."

"I think you can hardly say stolen, Monsieur Fargeau," said Hardress, without
rising. "The French Ministry of War very foolishly refused to have anything to
do with your father's invention, and he may have given you one set of
specifications, but he also threw himself into the sea with the other, and we
picked him up. You can call it chance or fate or anything you please, but it
certainly wasn't theft. You see, we got this land and built these works while
the French Government was thinking about it; and I must also remind you that
they are built on British soil, and held under lease from a British Colonial
Government.

"Russia, France, and Great Britain are at peace. The war in Europe is over,
and therefore you will excuse me if I remind you and your colleagues that any
attempt to attain your end by force would put you outside the pale of
civilisation. In other words despite your uniforms and your commissions, you
would simply be common pirates, with no claim to any of the rights of regular
belligerents."

"But," said Victor Fargeau, speaking with a distinct snarl in his voice, "you
forget, Monsieur le Vicomte, that we are in a position to compel surrender, and
that, once masters of the works, we shall be, as you are, above the law.
Granted all you say, it comes to this: Nothing can justify our mission but
success, and we shall succeed."

"In that case," said the president, in his somewhat halting French, "it
doesn't seem worth while to discuss the matter any further. We won't surrender
the works, and the last man left alive in them would fire the mines and die in
their ruins. These gentlemen think they can take them. We think they can't.
It's no use talking about a proposition like that. It's got to be argued with
guns and other things. It seems to me that the only question we've got to ask
is, whether all these gentlemen are unanimous in their determination to take
the works by force, if they can?"

Admiral Dumont exchanged a whispered word with his Russian colleague, and then
he rose and said:

"Milords, I regret to say our orders leave us no other alternative, and our
duty to our countries will compel us to take that action, most reluctantly as
we shall do so. As Monsieur Fargeau has said, we believe that the vital
principle of this system belongs to him and to France. We have been sent here
to regain what was lost to us through an unfortunate mistake, and we must do
so. Yet we do not wish to be precipitate. We will ask you to take until six
o'clock to-morrow morning, that is to say, eight hours from now, to reconsider
your decision as to surrender. And there is just one more point.

"You have certain guests, not entirely voluntary ones, in the works. If it
should, unhappily, come to a struggle between us, it would, of course, be
impossible for such chivalrous gentlemen to retain two ladies and a Russian
nobleman and ex-Minister. We request that, in the unfortunate case of
hostilities becoming inevitable, they shall be permitted to come an board one
of our ships."

As the French admiral sat down. Lord Orrel got up and said: "Gentlemen, I am
exceedingly sorry that matters have come to such a pass as this. There can be
no question of surrender, but our guests will be free to join your squadrons
when they please. Therefore, for their convenience, and in order not to bring
our little dinner to too abrupt a close, we will accept the truce till six
o'clock. Perhaps by that time other and, I think, better counsels may have
prevailed with you.

"I sincerely hope that they will; for I can assure you that my son was not
speaking idly when he said that you would not only be destroyed, but
annihilated. We have here means of destruction which have never yet been used
in war. For your sakes, and for those of the brave men under your command, I
trust that they never will be. And now, as further discussion would seem to be
unprofitable, suppose we join the ladies. We may be friends, at anyrate, till
six o'clock."

In the reception-room the mystified guests of the Trust found coffee and
liqueurs, music and song and pleasant conversation, which touched on every
possible subject, save battle, murder, and sudden death. Then came a stroll on
the walls by the light of a brilliant Aurora, which made the sun, which was
just touching the southern horizon, look like a pallid and exaggerated moon,
and during this stroll Victor Fargeau managed to pass a small Lebel revolver
and some cartridges to Sophie and the count in case of accidents. They had
decided to go on board the Ivan the Terrible when the guests left the works,
and Ma'm'selle Felice and the count's servant were already putting their
baggage together. The train was to wait for them at midnight.

Meanwhile, Doctor Lamson, who had left the party immediately after dinner, had
been getting the defences of the works in order. The huge engines, disconnected
now from the absorbers and storage batteries, from which the captured world-
soul was now being released back into the earth, were still purring softly, and
working as mightily as ever, but now their force was being used to a different
end.

On each of the four towers at the corners of the quadrangle there had been
mounted an apparatus which looked something like a huge searchlight, and
underneath it were two real searchlights. On eight platforms, one on each side
of the towers, but hidden by a circular wall of twelve-inch hardened steel,
were mounted, on disappearing carriages, the president's big guns, enlarged
copies of the one he had used so effectually on board the Nadine. Each would
throw a shell containing a hundred pounds of Vandelite to a distance of eight
miles. The great engines worked continuously, storing up liquid air in chambers
under the gun platforms, but they were also doing other and, for the present,
much more deadly work. The huge copper tubes above the searchlights on the
towers were turned above the harbour. They made neither light nor sound, but
all the while they were accumulating destruction such as no mortal hand had yet
dealt out to an enemy.

The evening passed, apparently in the most friendly and peaceful fashion, and
no one suddenly introduced into the reception-room would have dreamt that the
members of Lord Orrel's dinner-party were not on the very best of terms with
themselves and each other. Not even Adelaide or Sophie, sitting there with
their revolvers in the pockets of their dinner dresses, and thoughts of murder
in their souls, had the remotest idea of how terribly it was destined to end.

Miss Chrysie had sung "The Old Folks at Home," and Adelaide one of the old
chansons which had delighted the Grand Monarque in the Trianon. Then Sophie sat
down at the piano, and the slow solemn strains of the Russian National Hymn
wailed up in majestic chords from the instrument. There was something of
defiance both in her touch and in her voice, but international courtesies were
respected, and everyone in the room stood up. For Sophie Valdemar it was her
swan-song—since she was never to sing another—and she sang it splendidly, with
her whole soul in it. As the last line, "Give to us peace in our time, O Lord,"
left her lips, Lord Orrel went to her side, and said:

"Thank you, countess. A splendid hymn splendidly sung!" And then he turned to
the French and Russian admirals, and said: "Gentlemen, is it not possible for
you to answer, as you could answer, that prayer for peace? I can assure you, on
my word of honour as an English gentleman, that this building in which you are
now is impregnable to all forms of attack known to modern warfare. At a
distance of five thousand miles we have paralysed the fleets and armies of
Europe. Your ships are less than five miles from our walls: you are not
courting defeat, you are courting annihilation. Can you not leave us in peace?"

"I was under the impression, milord," said Admiral Nazanoff, "that that
subject was closed for the present. We have yet to be convinced as to these
terrible powers which you claim to possess: but our orders are real, so too are
our ships and guns; and since you have refused the terms we have offered we
have no alternative but to put these boasted powers of yours to the test of
war. I regret it most exceedingly, as I am sure my colleague, Admiral Dumont,
does also, but that must be our last word."

The French admiral and Victor Fargeau both bowed assent as he spoke. And Lord
Orrel answered:

"Well, gentlemen, since you are resolved, so be it. We will not discuss the
matter further."

While he was speaking Lady Olive had gone to the piano, and, as he ceased, the
opening chords of "Auld Lang Syne," floated through the room, and she began to
sing the old Scotch song. The words had a strangely satirical meaning for Count
Valdemar and his daughter and Adelaide, who had heard them several times at
Orrel Court, and Lady Olive put such expression into them that both Sophie and
Adelaide felt inclined to be a little ashamed of themselves. Then in the midst
of the song the clock began to chime twelve, and Lady Olive, with a frank look
of defiance in her eyes, switched off suddenly into "God Save the King," and
began to sing the opening lines. At the end of the first verse she stopped and
rose from the piano, and said to her father, who had been looking a little
uneasy, as though he thought it was hardly good taste:

"I am very sorry, papa, if I have offended, but really I could not help it; it
seemed inevitable."

"And why not?" said Adelaide. "Was not the same song sung in honour of the
Grand Monarque by the ladies of Versailles? Well, now, Lady Olive, I suppose it
is good-night and good-bye. A thousand thanks for all your kindness and
hospitality."

"And a thousand thanks from me, too," said Sophie.

They held out their hands, but Lady Olive put hers behind her, and drew back.

"Thank you," she said, frigidly. "You are quite welcome to any kindness that I
have been able to show you; but, really, I must ask you to pardon me if I
decline to shake hands with you after you have definitely joined the enemies of
my family."

"Perhaps you are right, Lady Olive," laughed Sophie. "Still, I hope that, at
no very distant time, we shall have an opportunity of returning some, at least,
of your kindness."

A few minutes later hosts and guests were standing outside the western gate,
beside which the electric engine and the saloon carriage were waiting to take
them to the harbour. The departing guests' luggage had been put on a little
truck at the back.

"Ah, well, this is the end, I suppose," said Adelaide to Sophie as they stood
in the dim twilight of the Northern midnight, exchanging their last formal
salutations. "To-night peace; to-morrow war."

"But why not war now?" whispered Sophie. "Look! what a chance! Shall we ever
have another like it? A la guerre; comme a la guerre!"

"Yes," whispered Adelaide in reply. "Ah, sacr6! Look there!"

As she spoke, Chrysie left Lady Olive's side, went to Hardress, and slipped
her arm through his, and looked up at him with an expression that there was no
mistaking.

Then Adelaide de Condi's long pent-up passion broke loose, and the hot blood
of hate began to sing in her head and burn in her eyes. Everything, so far, had
failed. She had made herself a criminal, and had been punished by a silent, but
humiliating, pardon. She had disgraced herself in the eyes of the man she would
have sold her soul to get, and now—well, what did it matter? To-morrow—nay,
within six hours, it would be war to the death. Why not begin now, as Sophie
had whispered?

For the moment she was mad, or she would not have done what she did. But she
was mad—mad with failure, hopeless love, and the hatred which only the "woman
scorned" can feel. She pulled Chrysie's revolver out of her pocket, and snarled
between her teeth:

"You have got him, but you shall not keep him!"

The revolver went up at the same moment, and she pulled the trigger. Three
shots cracked in quick succession. Hardress went down with a broken thigh ;
Chrysie, in the act of drawing her own revolver, received a bullet in her arm,
which was intended for her heart; and the third one went through the hood of
her cloak, just touching the skin above the ear.

She tried to get out the revolver with her left hand; but, before she could do
so, Sophie and Fargeau had opened fire, and at Sophie's first shot, she clasped
her hand to her side, and went down beside Hardress. Lord Orrel had a bit of
his left ear snipped off, and the president got a flesh wound just below the
left shoulder.

The two admirals, who had already taken their seats in the car, with Madame de
Bourbon and the Russian professor, sprang to their feet; but, before they could
leave the car, a strange and awful thing happened. A blinding glare of light
shone out from the southern tower, where Doctor Lamson had been watching the
departure through his. night-glasses. The thin ray wavered about until it fell
on Sophie Valdemar and Adelaide de Condé, still standing close together, with
Victor Fargeau just in front of them.

For a moment their faces showed white and ghastly in the blazing radiance ;
and then, to the amazement and horror of those who saw the strangest sight that
human eye had ever gazed upon, down the ray of light, invisible, but all-
destroying, flowed the terrible energy of the disintegrator on the top of the
tower. Their hair crinkled up and disappeared, the flesh melted from their
faces and hands. For an instant, two of the most beautiful countenances in
Europe were transformed into living skulls, which grinned out in unspeakable
hideousness. Then their clothing shrivelled up into tinder, and all three
dropped together in an indistinguishable heap of crumbling bones.

CHAPTER XXX

Almost at the moment that the man and the two women who, but a few moments
ago, had been standing in the full pride of their youth and health and beauty,
had dropped to the earth in little heaps of crumbling bones, whistles sounded
inside the works, and a number of men came out of the western gate, some of
them armed with rifles and revolvers, and others carrying stretchers. Hardress
and Chrysie were lifted on to two of these, and Lady Olive went back into the
works with them.

Lord Orrel and the president, after having their wounds hastily bandaged for
the time being, went to the door of the saloon carriage, and Lord Orrel said,
shortly and sternly:

"Madame de Bourbon, as you have seen, your niece has ceased to exist. Count
Valdemar, the same is true of your daughter. And as for you, gentlemen," he
went on, turning to the two admirals, "you have seen something of those means
of defence of which I spoke to you after dinner.

"There," he went on, pointing to the little heap of mingled bones lying on the
sand, "is the proof of it. Every human thing that tries to pass the limits of
those rays will share the same fate. These people were enemies, but they were
worse—they were traitors; and, as you have seen, they wished to be murderers.
They have justly earned their fate.

There is no reason why you should share it. Take my advice, I pray you, advice
which I give from the bottom of my heart. Weigh anchor to-night, go back to
Europe, and you will find that everything that we have told you is true."

"That, my Lord Orrel, is impossible," said Admiral Nazanoff, coming to the
door of the car. "By what devilish means you have slain Captain Fargeau and
those two ladies we know not, save that it must have been done through some
material mechanism. To-morrow our guns shall try conclusions with it, whatever
it is. Yes, even though you turned that murderous ray on us and killed us, as
you did them, for our men have their orders. And now, I suppose, we had better
get out and walk. We can hardly expect the use of your train after what has
happened."

"You needn't worry about that, admiral," said the president; "we've promised
you safe conduct to your ships, and you shall have it. But look here, count,"
he went on, pulling a heavy six- shooter out of his pocket, "don't you get
fingering about that pocket as if you had a gun in it, or it'll be the last
shooting-iron you ever did touch. We don't want any more shooting than we've
had till we begin business in the morning."

Count Valdemar saw that he was covered, and he didn't like the look of the
hard, steady, grey eyes behind the barrel of the long repeating pistol. He took
his hand empty out of his pocket, clasped it with the left over his knees, and
shrugged his shoulders. There was nothing to be said, and so he kept something
of his dignity by holding his tongue, and the president went on: "Well, that's
better. You keep your hands where they are, and no harm will happen to you just
now. But don't you think, gentlemen, that it would be better if Madame de
Bourbon came back with us into the works, where she will be safe, anyhow safer
than she would be on one of your ships, if you are still determined to fight it
out."

"I am much obliged to you. Monsieur le President," replied the old lady, in
her most autocratic manner; "but after what has happened, and what I have seen,
I prefer to return with my own people."

"And," added Admiral Dumont, "you may be quite certain, monsieur, that before
this most regrettable battle begins at six o'clock, one of the ships will have
taken Madame de Bourbon beyond the reach of harm."

"With that, of course, we must be content," said Lord Orrel, coming back to
the president's side. "And now, gentlemen, since, as you say, it is to be war
between us, I have one more favour to ask: Here is the man," he went on,
pointing to the second engineer of the Nadine, who had been brought out of the
gate by a couple of stalwart quarter-masters, "here is the man who allowed
himself to be bribed by the late Countess Sophie Valdemar and the Marquise de
Montpensier to wreck the engines of the Nadine, and so, as they thought, turn
the course of fate in their favour. We have not punished him, but we have no
further use for his services. He is a good engineer, whatever else he may be,
and so perhaps you will be able to find him some employment on board one of
your ships. Now, Robertson and Thompson, help Mr Williams into the car, please.
These gentlemen want to get down to the harbour."

The two quartermasters picked up the handcuffed Williams, and flung him in
through the open door of the saloon. Then the president said to the man at the
engine, "Right away, driver, and come back when these gentlemen are safe on
board. Salud, Señores," he went on to the two admirals, raising his hat with
his unwounded arm. "Take my advice—clear out, and don't let us have any
shooting in the morning. I reckon we've had quite trouble enough already."

At this moment the driver of the electric motor sounded his bell, the two
admirals and the count raised their hats and stared out through the window with
grim, immovable faces, and so went back to the ships, marvelling greatly at the
wonderful horror they had beheld. Madame de Bourbon was already in hysterics,
succoured by Ma'm'selle Felice. Count Valdemar, though stricken to the heart by
the frightful fate of the only human being that he had loved since his wife had
died nearly twenty years before, was yet determined to use all his influence to
compel the admirals to take the amplest possible revenge for her slaying.
Certainly if the works were not battered into ruins within twelve hours, it
would not be his fault; and then, as the little train drew out, he fell to
wondering whether Hardress and Chrysie Vandel were killed or not.

"And are you still decided to fight, gentlemen?" he said to the admirals a few
moments later, when the car was rattling over the narrow rails, "and, if so,
what are you going to do with this thing?" He touched Mr Williams's still
prostrate body with his toe as he said this.

"I need not tell you, count," replied Admiral Nazanoff, "as a Russian to a
Russian, that orders are orders, and mine are to take those works or destroy
them. I admit that what we saw to-night was very wonderful and very terrible,
but when Holy Russia says 'Go and do,' then we must go and do, or die. The
Little Father has no forgiveness for failure. That, in Russia, is the one
unpardonable fault. Our guns will open at six in the morning. That man will
take his chance with the rest of our men."

"And," said Admiral Dumont, "even if we cannot take the works and use them, we
may destroy them, and so rid the world of this detestable commercial tyranny
which would make war a matter of poll-tax. We shall open fire at six. Ah, here
we are at the wharf. Now let us go and see that everything is ready. Admiral
Nazanoff, I believe you are my senior in service; it will therefore be yours to
fire the first shot. The Caiman shall fire the second."

"And I shall ask you, admiral," said the count to Nazanoff, "as a personal
favour, and also, as I will say frankly, a matter of personal vengeance, to be
allowed to fire that first gun."

"My dear count," replied the admiral, "with the greatest pleasure. It shall be
laid by the' best gunner on board the Ivan, and your hand shall send the shot,
I hope, into the vitals of these accursed works. If we could only manage to
drop a hundred-pound melinite shell into the right place, it would do a great
deal."

CHAPTER XXXI

Until five o'clock there was silence both in the works and on the ships in the
harbour. Then, as the southern sun began to climb on its upward curve, the
eight searchlights on the towers blazed out, looking ghostly white in the
twilight. They were arranged so that they formed two intersecting triangles on
each face of the works.

From the top of the western gate flamed a huge star. It was a ten-million-
candle-power light, and its radiance, cast directly upon the harbour, was so
intense that while the ships were flooded with light, the dim, watery rays of
the sun made twilight in comparison with it.

"That is well managed," said Admiral Nazanoff" to the count as they were
taking their early coffee on the bridge of the ice-breaker. "I suppose that
devil-ray, or whatever they call it, is running along those lights, and so
making a barrier that no living thing can pass without destruction. It is an
amazing invention, whatever it is; but it is murder, not war. Still, if it
comes to an assault, we must rush it. Meanwhile it is to be hoped that our guns
will have destroyed their infernal apparatus.

"You see, we have six ships here in line abreast, and twelve guns, each
throwing a melinite shell of not less than a hundred pounds, are trained on the
face of the building. When your excellency has fired the first shot they will
open, and, at the same time, fifty smaller quick-firers will sweep the walls in
such a fashion that no living thing will exist for a moment, either on top of
them or in front. In fact, once let us destroy the apparatus which generates
that horrible devil-ray, I can give it no other name, and the works are ours."

"But the shooting will not be all on our side, admiral, I fear," said the
count. "That is a very terrible little gun that they have on the Nadine. It was
only a twelve-pounder, but a couple of shots sent the Vlodoya to the bottom,
and this man Vandel—if the light had been better he would not have been living
now—told me himself that they had guns ten times as powerful on the works."

"Most probably a little Yankee bluff, my dear count," said the admiral. "I
dislike those search-lights much more than I fear the guns. You see, it is
almost impossible to take an accurate aim against a searchlight, while it is
perfectly easy to shoot from behind or below them. Still, all our guns are
fortunately laid already. Yours, which is the starboard one down yonder, is
trained on the gate in the centre. The shell will pierce that, dnd if it
strikes the engine-house or whatever it is in the middle of the square it will
probably disable the works. That, I believe, is the heart and centre of the
whole system."

"It is very probable," said the count, who had already described what he had
seen of the works to the admiral, "and I hope my shot will find it, for then my
poor Sophie will be partly, at least, avenged. It was a terrible end for two
such beautiful women, was it not, admiral? Fargeau did not matter so much; for,
after all, he was only a half-turned traitor and spy."

"It was the most awful sight I have ever beheld," replied the admiral; "indeed
I cannot think that human eyes could look upon anything more horrible. But by
mid-day I hope our guns will have avenged them as completely as good shot and
shell can do. And now, excellency, with your permission we must have our last
council of war; I must see my captains and arrange the last details with
Admiral Dumont, as it is getting near six. I took the trouble of setting my
watch by the clock in the reception-room."

"And mine," said the count, taking out his repeater, "has been going with it
for days. When this chimes six we may begin."

Within a few minutes the two admirals and the captains of the different
vessels went, by appointment, to the cabin of the Ivan, and the last, details
were arranged. As the clock struck six every available gun was to open on the
western face of the works, and the fire of the heaviest guns was to be
concentrated on the towers and the central gate until the searchlights were
extinguished and the deadly rays rendered impotent.

Meanwhile boats and steam-pinnaces were to be ready to land the sailors and
marines with their machine-guns, and as soon as there was reason to believe
that the rays were no longer operative, a general advance in force was to be
made on the western gate. No quarter was to be given; no prisoners taken.
Victor Fargeau had left his father's legacy and all necessary directions for
operating the works with Admiral Dumont, and so there would be no necessity for
any assistance from the prisoners, and therefore no need to take any.

At five minutes to six Count Valdemar and Admiral Nazanoff went down on to the
fore-deck. At the same moment that they were making their last examination of
the guns, a thin ray of electric light shone out from the top of a little rocky
promontory to the north of the harbour, where there was a little white tower
which the invaders had taken for a harmless and necessary lighthouse. The ray
fell directly on the fore-deck of the Ivan.

"Ah," said the admiral, stepping back under the protection of the top works,
"take care, your excellency, that is only about a hundred metres off, and they
may have one of those infernal rays there."

"It is six o'clock," said the count, taking his watch in his left hand and the
lanyard of the gun in his right. The beam of ghostly light wavered and fell on
him as he stepped back to pull. The next instant the flesh of his uplifted hand
melted away from the bones, the lanyard fell away. With a cry of agony he
dropped his hand, and then the terrible ray fell on his face. The horror-
stricken officers and men saw it change from a face to a skull, watched his fur
cap shrivel up and vanish, the hair and flesh on his scalp disappear. Then he
dropped, and the bare skull struck the steel deck with a queer sharp click.

A sudden paralysis of horror fell upon officers and men alike, until the
admiral roared out an order to turn the port gun on to the lighthouse. He was
obeyed, and the gun was fired hurriedly; the shell struck the rock just below
the lighthouse and exploded with a terrific report, but the living rock held
good, and the deadly ray shone on. The gunner who had fired it was blasted to a
skeleton in a moment, and the rest of the officers and men ran for shelter like
so many frightened hares. They were ready to face any ordinary danger, but this
was too awful for mortal courage.

Then the ray wandered over the fore-decks and bridges of the other ships till
it reached the Caiman, on the bridge of which Admiral Dumont was standing, a
horrified spectator of what had happened on the Ivan. He had a pistol in his
hand; a shot was to be the signal for the French vessels to open fire. The ray
fell on his hand as he raised it to fire, the hand shrivelled to bone before he
could pull the trigger. But the gunners had seen the signal, and the guns
roared out. Over fifty guns of all calibres roared and crackled for a minute or
so, and a brief hurricane of shell swept across the stony plain between the
harbour and the works.

Then it stopped. Every gun was silent, for not a man dared go near it. Every
officer and man who had shown himself in the open had been reduced to a heap of
bones before he could get back under shelter. Then those who were out of reach
of the terrible death-rays saw six long guns rise from the masked batteries
beside the two towers and over the central gate. There was no flash or report,
but the next moment six hundred-pound shells, charged with Vandelite, had
struck the French and Russian vessels, and, as a fighting force, the
expeditions had practically ceased to exist.

Every ship was hit either in her hull or her top works. The steel structures
crumpled up and collapsed under the terrible energy of the explosion. The steel-
walled casemates were cracked and ripped open as though they had been built of
common deal, and every man on deck within twenty yards of the explosion dropped
dead or insensible. Both admirals were killed almost at the same moment.

The guns sank back and rose again, and again the explosions crashed out on
board the doomed ships. The death-ray played continuously over their decks and
every man who showed himself fell dead with the flesh withered from his face
and skull. The terrible bombardment lasted for about a quarter of an hour, and
then when only the Caiman and Ivan were left afloat, and the crews of the other
vessels had either gone down with them or had swum or scrambled ashore in the
boats, the guns ceased, and the rays were shut off.

This ended the fight, if, indeed, fight it could be called. Several of the
shells had struck the walls and blown out large portions of the facings, but no
vital spot had been touched, thanks to the difficulty of taking aim in the
blinding glare of the search-lights. The little lighthouse on the north point,
which had proved such a veritable tower of strength, was still unharmed,
although the rocks about it were splintered and pulverised by shell-fire.

Only about a dozen petty officers and a couple of hundred sailors and stokers
escaped, and most of them were half-mad with fear. They were ordered back on
board the Ivan, which, thanks to her enormously strong construction, had stood
the terrible bombardment better than the Caiman. Her topworks were smashed out
of all shape, and her decks were ripped and rent in all directions, but her
hull was still sound, and a few days' work at her engines would make them
serviceable. And in her the survivors of the ill-fated expedition ultimately
went back to Europe with a formal message from the directors of the Trust to
the governments of France and Russia, expressing their regret that so much
damage and loss of life had resulted from the act of piracy committed by those
who had mistaken the Magnetic for the North Pole.

The CorneiUe, the old wooden ship which had conveyed Madame de Bourbon out of
the range of the guns and the death-ray, was brought back the next morning by
the Nadine and the Washington, whose business it had been to stop the escape of
any French or Russian vessel from the waters of Boothia, and as she was
immediately available for the service, she carried Madame de Bourbon back to
France. With her she took a small box of oak, which contained all that the
death-ray had left of Adelaide de Condd, Marquise de Montpensier, the last,
save herself, of the daughters of the old line of the Bourbons.

A similar casket containing the bones of Sophie Valdemar and her father were
sent under her care to the count's brother, whose place in Petersburg was less
than a hundred yards distant from the German Embassy, the scene of the
reception where what was now but dry bones, dust, and ashes, had been life and
beauty and subtly working brains, plotting for the possession of the world-
empire, whose throne was not now in any of the splendid capitals of Europe, or
of the east, or west, but within the four-square limits —measuring four hundred
feet each way—within which the World Masters reigned impregnable and supreme.

EPILOGUE

The short Northern summer was drawing rapidly to its close when Chrysie and
Hardress were pronounced fit to travel. Hardress had had a very narrow shave,
for one of the count's bullets had grazed the right lung, and the wound had
brought on an acute attack of pleural inflammation.

Chrysie's wounds had healed within a fortnight, and as soon as she was able to
get about she did her best to supplant Lady Olive as nurse in the sick- room.

"You may be his sister," she said, in answer to a strong protest from Lady
Olive, "and you're just as good a sister as a man wants to have; but I hope I'm
going to be something more than a sister; and so, if he's going to be mine and
I'm going to be his, I want to do the rest. After all, you see it's only a sort
of looking after one's own property."

Just at this moment Hardress woke up and turned a languid head and a pair of
weary and yet eager eyes upon the two girls.

"Chrysie," he said, in a thick, hoarse whisper, and yet through smiling lips,
"in the speech of your own country, you've got it in once. There's just one
thing I want now to make me well. You know what it is. Come and give it me."

"Why, you mean thing!" said Chrysie, going towards the bed, "I believe you've
heard everything we've been saying."

"Some of it," he whispered. ' What about that reserve—that territory, you
know, that I was supposed to have an option on in Buffalo?"

"Buffalo's not Boothia, Shafto," she replied, using his Christian name for the
first time since they had known each other; "but the reserve's all right. I
guess you've only got to take up your option when you want it."

"Then I'll take it now," he whispered again, looking weariedly and yet with an
infinite longing into her eyes.

"And so you shall," she said, leaning down over the bed. ldquo;You have done
the work—you and Lord Orrel and poppa. You've done everything that you said you
would; you're masters of the world, and, as far as mortals can be, controllers
of human destiny—you and Doctor Lamson. He began it, didn't he? If it hadn't
been for him and his knowledge you'd have done nothing at all. And he's got his
reward too. That's so; isn't it, Olive? Yes; you can tell the story afterwards,
but you and I are going to marry two of the world masters, and we're each of us
going to have a world master for father, and—well, I guess that's about all
there is in it. And now I'm going to seal the contract"

She bent her head and kissed Hardress's pale but still smiling lips, and just
at that moment there was a knock at the door. Lady Olive almost involuntarily
said, "Come in," and Doctor Lamson, who had, next to Emil Fargeau, been the
working genius of the whole vast scheme which the dead savant had worked out in
his laboratory at Strassburg, came in.

Miss Chrysie, flushing and bright-eyed, straightened herself up, looking most
innocently guilty. Doctor Lamson looked at her for a moment and then at Lady
Olive. His own clear, deep-set grey eyes lit up with a flash, and his clean-cut
lips curved into a smile, as he said:

"I hope I'm not intruding, as a much more distinguished person than myself
once said; but, as Hardress is so much better, having apparently found a most
potent, though unqualified, physician, I thought you would like to hear the
latest news from Europe. The Powers have surrendered at discretion. As they
can't fight, they are willing to make peace. They have accepted King Edward as
arbitrator, and he, like the good sportsman that he is, has decided that in
future, if a country wants to fight another, it shall submit .^he casus belli
to a committee of the Powers not concerned in the quarrel. If they are all
concerned in it, the tribunal is to consist of the Pope, the Archbishop of
Canterbury, and the Archimandritic of the Greek Church. If either of the
belligerents refuse arbitration after the dispute has been thoroughly gone
through, or begins fighting before the decision is delivered, it will have the
same experiences as Europe had in the late war—which, of course, was no war."

"Because we stopped it," said Lady Olive, looking straight across the room
into Doctor Lamson's eyes.

"Well, yes, we" said Chrysie, standing up beside the bed. "I reckon, all
things considered, we four have had about as much to do with stopping this war
and teaching the nations to behave decently as anybody else on earth. We are
here on the throne of the world, kings and queens from pole to pole!—"

"But, my dear Chrysie," exclaimed Lady Olive, flushing from her shapely chin
to her temples, and making a move towards the door, "surely you don't mean—"

"I don't mean any more than we all mean in our hearts," interrupted Chrysie,
taking Hardress's hand in hers. "What's the use of world masters and world
mistresses trying to hide things from each other? We four people here in this
room run the world. I want to run this man, and you want to run that one; and
they, of course, think they'll run us, which they won't! Anyhow, we're all
willing to try that, and I think the best thing we can do is to sign, seal, and
deliver the contract of the offensive and defensive alliance right here and
now. You kiss, and we'll kiss, and that's all there is to it."

And they kissed.

THE END